Gurkha Pension Policies and Ex-Gurkha Campaigns: A Review (2013), C. Laksamba, K. Adhikari L. Dhakal, D. Gellner
Left to right: Alex Crowford, Lokendra Dhakal, Rob Wilson, Chandra Laksamba, Krishna Adhikari and Dhan Gururng releasing the report
On 18 October 2013, Centre for Nepal Studies UK (CNSUK) launched a report entitled “Gurkha Pension Policies and Ex-Gurkha Campaigns: A Review”. Mr Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East (Conservative Party), Cllr Alex Crawford, former Mayor of Rushmoor Borough Council (Labour Party) and Mr Dhan Gurung, Ex-Councillor and the first Nepali Councillor in the UK (Liberal Democrat Party) jointly unveiled the report amongst a large gathering in Reading.
At a separate function, this Report was also released in Kathmandu, Nepal, on the 6 October 2013 by the only surviving ex-Gurkha VC, Rambahadur Limbu, and the former Minister and prominent civil society leader Dr Devendra Raj Panday.
The report was prepared by CNSUK with the voluntary contribution of its team comprising of Dr Chandra Kumar Laksamba, who led the project, and members Dr Krishna Adhikari, Mr Lokendra Purush Dhakal and Professor David Gellner. Dr Adhikari and Professor Gellner are also associated with the University of Oxford. The study was commissioned as part of CNSUK’s ongoing research and carried out with internal resources including full voluntary contributions.
Mr Lokendra Purush Dhakal moderated the launch, which was addressed by Professor Gellner by video. Dr Adhikari welcomed and introduced CNSUK and provided an outline of the report. Dr Laksamba elaborated the findings of the report. Dr Adhikari introduced the rationale for producing the report. He said that, as a research organisation dedicated to “advancing knowledge related to Nepalis”, CNSUK had decided to produce a report based on a systematic review of existing documents and stakeholders’ views.
He added that the aim of this report was to provide information and background on the unresolved Gurkha pension issue to achieve a nuanced and balanced understanding that recognises the positions of diverse stakeholders. During the presentation, Dr Laksamba clarified the difference between the words “fair” and “equal”, and contested claims that the British Government has “fair policies”. Underscoring the basic tenets of equality – moral principles and the basic norms and values of human rights – he argued Gurkhas’ “fight for equal rights” is not an emotionally charged campaign. He added that the report presents ways forward that can become a useful tool for stakeholders, namely UK Government, Government of Nepal, and Ex-Gurkha organisations, to find an amicable solution.
Dr Sondra Hausner, member of the CNSUK and University of Oxford, opined that the Gurkha Report is based on the data from the social research, so it is factual and different from the emotional pleas.
During the question and answer session, Mr Naryan Gurung, Dr Chandra Bahadur Gurung and Mr Prasad Thebe confirmed that the report could become a very strong supporting document for the on-going Gurkha campaigns for equal rights. Mr Krishna Hembya said that he was very much positive about the findings and stated that the report will play a vital role in solving the Gurkhas’ pension issues as it is based on facts.
Dr Laksamba, the Executive Director of the CNSUK, presented copies of the report to Mr Rob Wilson MP for Prime Minister David Cameron MP, Cllr Alex Crawford for Opposition Leader Ed Miliband MP, and former Cllr Dhan Gurung for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP. Furthermore, copies of the report were presented to Maj Bijayanta Sherchan, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Colonel Brigade of Gurkhas and the Ministry of Defence.
On 9 September 2013, Dr Laksamba, Dr Adhikari and Cllr Crawford handed over the report to the Shadow Armed Forces Minister Kevan Jones and had a discussion on the report.
The report is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, as it explores extensively and analyses critically the Gurkha pensions and welfare policies after the Tripartite Agreement (TPA) was signed between the UK, Nepal and India on 9 November 1947. The report highlights the position of the Government of Nepal (GoN) for equal pay, pension, welfare and promotion to Gurkha soldiers in order to clear the stigma of being mercenary troops from citizens of Nepal. The Indian Army treats Gurkha soldiers of Nepali origin equal to Indian citizens, as per the TPA.
However, only since 8 March 2007, after 60 years, has the UK Government implemented equal pay, pensions and welfare policies for serving British Gurkhas and equal pensions for those who were enlisted after 1 October 1993. However, about 23,000 Ex-British Gurkha pensioners and widows are still treated unequally. In addition, there are 6,534 Ex-Gurkha soldiers who were discharged before implementation of the Armed Forces Pension Act 1975 with less than nine years’ service so that they did not receive the service pension. Similarly, 542 Ex-Gurkha soldiers discharged after 1975 also do not receive service pensions. Of those, 3,500 identified as poor receive £40 a month in Gurkha Welfare Trust benefit. Those who are in the UK receive pension credit and housing benefits.
However, since the end of the 1990s, the UK Government has gradually improved the pay and pensions of Gurkha soldiers; hence, the difference of pensions between the British soldier and Gurkha soldier which was around 1000% in 1989 has come down to 100–300% for Gurkhas who joined the British Army before 1 October 1993.
The report elaborates five important issues, which are:
1) Unequal pensions provided to ex-British Gurkhas by the UK Government directly contradict the “equal pay for equal work” provisions enshrined in the charters of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and International Labour Organisation’s declaration of “equal pay for the job of equal value”;
2) for most ex-Gurkhas settled in the UK, the rationale of tailoring their benefits to Nepal’s cost of living no longer holds water, as recognised by the fact that the pay and the benefits of currently serving Gurkhas have been equalised;
3) The UK Government logic that making ex-Gurkhas’ pensions equal to their British counterparts would be expensive is a myth. In the context of ex-British Gurkhas without the service pensions, paying charity pensions equal to the UK pension credit in Nepal would benefit the UK Government from the economic and social point of view. More importantly, it would certainly mean respecting dignity by having entitlements rather than living on means-tested benefits, which culturally the Nepali community is not very proud of;
4) India recruits Nepali citizens under the TPA 1947 and treats its Gurkha soldiers equally in terms of pay, pensions and welfare. Even the French Government that had frozen its overseas soldiers’ pensions in 1959 is now providing the same French level of pension with effect from 2007. The USA has made a decision to provide an equal benefit to its Philippine veterans under the same criteria applied to other US military veterans. In this sense, the UK Government is lagging behind in giving equal pensions to its Gurkha veterans who joined the British Army before 1 October 1993; and,
5) the UK Government has made frequent changes of Gurkhas’ service terms, pay, pensions and other benefits as it deemed suitable and required by its needs at the time, without any meaningful three-way systematic dialogue and consultation. Similarly, India has repeatedly made it clear that it has nothing to do with the British Gurkhas and that the terms of service of British Gurkhas are a matter entirely for Nepal and Britain. Hence, it is necessary to abrogate the TPA and sign a bipartite UK-Nepal agreement to reflect the unique circumstances of the British Gurkhas and the changed context of British Gurkhas’ service, in order to make Gurkha recruitment relevant with the changed context and time.
The report outlines a suggestion, the way forward, for the relevant authorities to consider giving 7,076 ex-soldiers without a service pension, with over 2 years of service, benefits equal to UK Pension Credit to be paid in Nepal. Likewise, it suggests discarding GPS as it currently operates and upgrading it in line with AFPS 75, or allowing all GPS pensioners to opt for AFPS 75 with year-for-year counts of service prior to 1 July 1997. Finally, the report suggests abrogating the TPA and initiating the signing of a bipartite UK–Nepal agreement that reflects the unique circumstances of the British Gurkhas and the changed context of British Gurkha service in recent times.