It was heartening to see protesting disabled soldiers win their demand to enjoy a full salary after retirement, which would now be offered to them till they breathe their last.
Soldiers donning the green uniform earned the respect of citizens from all walks of life for the role they played in ending the 26-year civil war.
There was a time when buses plying the Anuradhapura-Colombo road played only the cassette titled ‘Sudu Araliya Mala’, especially when there were a couple of soldiers commuting in the bus. That was also because the request to play this cassette came from the soldiers the moment they entered the bus. This album was a favourite with soldiers during the time of the war. The driver granted such a request without any protest or reservation because he had so much respect and gratitude for soldiers.
But several years after the war we see the pathetic state of soldiers; the men in uniform having to protest on the streets to win their demands. There were protests recently where several disabled soldiers were seen taking to the streets demanding a solution to a grievance regarding their salaries. These soldiers were demanding the payment of 75% of their salaries apart from the monthly pension they are entitled to. They back their demands with the fact that some of these disabled soldiers need special medical attention.
These are days where we hear of several promotions being made within the security establishment and the Police. As many as 31,000 police officers were promoted while 31 Army Colonels were promoted to the post of Brigadier. These promotions have kept the island’s citizens wondering whether they are essential ones or done merely with a political motive in mind.
But this protest series by the disabled soldiers has been carried out in stages since 2016.
These soldiers were not alone. There were Buddhist monks, civil activists, artistes and the general public throwing their weight behind these protests.
Finally President Maithripala Sirisena presented a Cabinet memorandum to pay these disabled soldiers a full salary and their pensions. The whole exercise will cost the Government a whopping Rs 40 billion per annum.
According to the new Cabinet paper, an officer’s monthly allowance for rations has been increased to Rs 23,231 while it has been increased to 19, 350 for other ranks. The rental allowance paid to members of the Armed Forces has been doubled. The commando allowance for the Army, Navy and Sri Lanka Air Force has been raised from Rs 1000 to 5000. The death benefit payment has been made Rs 183, 072. The pension a soldier will receive after retirement has been calculated to be Rs 51,812.
The present Government blames the past regime for not doing much for these disabled soldiers, in terms of settling their salary anomalies. According to the present regime these reliefs haven’t been granted to these disabled soldiers for the past 20 years.
These reliefs will be enjoyed not only by disabled soldiers but also by disabled veterans of security forces and the Special Task Force.
2019 marked the 10th anniversary after the war was finished off by Government troops. This year’s celebration was conducted with all the pomp and pageantry. We saw the tears in the eyes of several widows of war veterans, who had perished during the war. There were also those who were wheeled in on chairs, made for the disabled. It’s sad to see that a protest of this manner had to take place several months after this celebration, just to ensure the welfare of disabled soldiers. We must remember that they became disabled during duty and when engaged in the war against terrorism; and not during vacation.
We owe these disabled soldiers much and it’s a shame if they have to remind us that we do out part for them!