Nepalese Gurkhas Win British Benefits

Nepalese Gurkhas Win British Benefits

Published: March 8, 2007
The New York Times

Filed at 12:07 p.m. ET

LONDON (AP) — Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who have been fighting for Britain but receiving unequal retirement benefits since the days of the British Empire will finally receive the same pensions as the rest of the army, the government said Thursday.

But the change will only apply to those who retired from the army in the last 10 years, leaving many older veterans of Britain's Gurkha Brigade disappointed.

Until now, Gurkhas' pensions have been based on the cost of living in Nepal. Their salaries were made equal to British soldiers' 10 years ago, when their home base was moved from Hong Kong to England.

The decision follows years of campaigning by Gurkha and British veterans who say many retired Gurkhas are destitute.

Gurkhas began serving the United Kingdom in 1815 in India, and with Indian independence in 1947 became part of the British army. More than 3,300 Gurkhas are in the army and most serve in overseas operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veterans Minister Derek Twigg told Parliament that Britain will increase Gurkhas' retirement income more than fivefold. The army is also examining how women can join the British army's Gurkha Brigade, which recruits in Nepal, Twigg said.

The Gurkhas will receive other new benefits: Nepalese soldiers who have served for at least five years will have the opportunity to transfer to other army units to advance their careers, and Gurkhas now will be given the same annual leave as other soldiers, he said.

''This is a historic day for the Brigade of Gurkhas,'' army chief General Sir Richard Dannatt said. ''Their contribution to operations around the world has been and will continue to be a major contribution to Britain's defense commitments.''

Gurkhas who have served 16 years in the army will see their pensions rise to $12,750 a year, from the current $2,300, The Daily Telegraph reported, adding the change will cost the defense ministry $38.6 million annually.

The government has said a court review in 2003 supported the defense ministry assertion that the pre-1997 pension payments offered to the Gurkhas were fair and equitable.

Starting next month, Gurkhas will automatically be allowed to settle in Britain after their service, so a previous assumption of retirement in Nepal no longer applies, the defense ministry said. Gurkhas in the past were discharged in Nepal and they had to apply to immigration authorities to remain in Britain.