Politicians, right from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh downwards, have been singing paeans to our armed forces heroes who have been putting their lives on the line in the mission to rescue people in the thousands in the flood-affected areas of Uttarakhand. But these words come across as empty nothingness when one considers the compensation that those who died in Tuesday’s helicopter crash will receive – and contrasts with the “reward” for the Indian cricketers who won the Champions Trophy on Sunday.
Appearing on a CNN-IBN panel discussion late on Tuesday, Col Anil Kaul pointed to this as exemplifying the “platitudes” that politicians offer the armed forces in times of crises – without doing anything substantive once the crisis fades away.
“People in the services are remembered in times of war, calamity, disaster – and anytime that things go wrong,” said Col Kaul. “But once the crisis is over, we are a forgotten tribe – until the next disaster strikes.”
In particular, Col Kaul drew attention to the fact that while the cricketers who who won the Champions Trophy on Monday had been given a reward of Rs 1 crore each, the relatives of the armed forces personnel who perished in the helicopter crash on Tuesday while on a rescue mission in Uttarakhand will be paid a measly Rs 15 lakh in compensation.
Even the countless other armed forces personnel who have been involved in the rescue operation – in hazardous terrain, facing inclement weather and putting their own lives at risk – will, he noted, retire over time. But the “same worthies” who represent the various segments of the political mainstream and civil society will go to court against us ex-servicemen and deny us our basic compensation,” said Col Kaul, giving expression to his frustration.
Indicatively, he said the one-rank-one-pension demand had been pending for 30 years, but no government had taken it up. The prias that senior ministers and politicians were offering the armed forces personnel today, he said, were “mere platitudes.” “Let them show it in action, let them agree to the demand for OROP. That is a test case.”
Col Kaul may perhaps come across as peddling a larger agenda for compensation at a time of tragedy involving the helicopter crash and the death of armed forces personnel. But the point that he makes is not without merit.
Col Kaul also made the additional point that many of the civilian deaths in the Uttarakhand tragedy may have been averted if the appropriate flood prevention equipment had been procured in time. Brandishing a piece of equipment before the camera, Col Kaul narrated another typical story of corruption in government that preys on human lives.
The equipment – which looks like nothing more than a piece of cloth – was, he said, a “replacement for the erstwhile sandbag”. But it has hydrogel packed in it, and when dropped in water, it expands from its original weight of 40 grams to 250 kg. “It can be used to divert water, and serves other multifarious functions.”
According to Col Kaul, he exhibited the technology to the erstwhile vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Agency six months ago, but was told that it was a State subject. After which, he said, he was approached by “touts” from the State who wanted him to pay money to get the State government to procure the hydrogel sandbags. Equipment like these, says Col Kaul, could have saved thousands of lives. (Watch Col Kaul’s cry of anguish )