Cabinet decision on defence pension benefits next month
Describing the twin tasks of improving the pensionary and medical benefits for ex-servicemen as 'subjects of prime concern' and 'as an ongoing process', Defence Minister AK Antony on Tuesday announced that the orders authorizing payment to ex-servicemen and their families accruing from the recent cabinet decisions, hiking pension and other benefits amounting to nearly Rs.2300 crores per annum, would be issued next month.
Addressing a meeting of the Consultative Committee attached to his Ministry, here, Antony said this is the third time in the last four years that the Government have systematically improved the post-retirement benefits for ex-servicemen.
Outlining the slew of measures taken by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for improving the health care benefits of ex-servicemen, Antony said the Government has been trying to expand the delivery mechanism and simplify procedures so that the ex-servicemen, who have given their best years of life for the security of the nation, get the required medical benefits without hassles.
He said under the Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS), which has been in operation since April 2003, 227 polyclinics were initially approved by the Government.
In 2010, another 199 polyclinics were sanctioned by the Government out of which 99 polyclinics have become functional and 100 polyclinics are under various stages of operationalization.
The scheme is presently been implemented to 326 functional polyclinics.
At present, the scheme has over 41 lakh beneficiaries including 13 lakh ex-servicemen and over 28 lakh dependents.
The reach and coverage of the scheme is evident from the fact that in 2011-12, 90 lakh patients were attended to at the polyclinics.
Antony expressed confidence that with the commissioning of the remaining polyclinics the bulk of the ex-servicemen population throughout the country would be covered by the scheme.
Antony said there is still a long way to go as presently, ECHS facilities are available only in 339 districts out of a total of 659 in the country.
The delivery of medicare at polyclinics is also hampered by the shortage of staff and non-availability of the prescribed medicines, he said.
Taking part in the discussion, the Members of Parliament urged the Government to prepare a roadmap to ensure that medical facilities are available to ex-servicemen in every district of the country.
They also called for greater transparency in the process. Some Members pointed out that there is inordinate delay in settling the bills of private hospitals which should be ameliorated through technological means.
Taking note of the rapid growth of healthcare facilities in the private sector in recent years and the innovative steps taken by some organizations and hospitals, the Members suggested that the Government should adopt the best practices readily available outside the government sector rather than handling the situation in a conservative fashion which is neither efficient nor cost-effective.
Replying to some of the queries of the Members, the Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh said the government is veering towards a 'dashboard approach' so that the healthcare mechanisms can be monitored online on a day-to-day basis by the administrators.
He said the government's efforts will always be to put a smile on the face of the ex-servicemen because they deserve it.
Members of Parliament who attended the meeting included Navin Jindal, Gajanan Dharmshi Babar, SS Ramasubbu, Gopal Singh Shekhawat, Suresh Kalmadi, Harsh Vardhan, Kailkesh N. Singh Deo, Sultan Ahmed, Ram Chandra Khuntia, Mahendra Prasad, Ishwarlal Jain, Ambika Soni and Piyush Goyal.
Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, Secretary Department of Defence Production RK Mathur, Secretary Ex-Servicemen's Welfare Vijay Chibber, Secretary Defence Finance Priti Mohanty and other officials of the Ministry of Defence also attended the meeting.