The Theresa May government in the UK last week announced plans to establish a new battalion of Royal Gurkha Rifles, which will start recruiting in 2019. The 3rd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles will join other members of the Specialist Infantry Group, to complete plans set out in the 2015 Defence Review to establish up to five Specialised Infantry Battalions. These specialised Infantry Battalions are designed to provide expert capacity building and training skills with a focus on niche capabilities or areas of the world.
For more than 200 years, Gurkhas have been an integral part of the British Armed Forces and have demonstrated exceptional military aptitude, with a 100% pass rate through basic training. Gurkha soldiers continue to make an exemplary contribution to the British Army through the unique skills they offer, including specialist language skills, which enable them to build longstanding relationships with the United Kingdom’s global partners.
Alongside this new role, the Ministry of Defence will also be enhancing the support some Gurkha units already provide to the Army, for example the UK led NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and establishing additional Gurkha Engineer and Signals Squadrons . These are crucial capabilities to enable the UK to meet its global defence commitments.
The new units will allow Gurkhas to access more career opportunities, including promotion and increased chances to serve a full 24-year Army career within the Brigade of Gurkhas.
Minister for the Armed Forces Mark Lancaster said, “The Gurkhas have built an outstanding reputation for their skill and bravery as soldiers through centuries of service and sacrifice. They bring unique expertise and perspective to the United Kingdom and British Army which makes them an ideal choice to form a third battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles as a Specialised Infantry Battalion.”
Colonel of the Royal Gurkha Rifles Major General Gez Strickland DSO MBE said, “The Royal Gurkha Rifles is delighted to be able to support the Army by creating a third battalion. The specialised infantry role is exciting and challenging and we look forward to learning new skills and making new partnerships around the world as we begin the new task. We are enormously proud of the Army’s confidence in our ability to take this on.”
Gurkhas to approach MPs to fight against pension discrimination
Retired Gurkhas are fighting for better pension, though the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has topped it up by £15mn last week, leading to an increase between 10-32% in pension, depending on ranks.
Before 1997, three years of service equalled to one year of British pension. In March 2007, the rules were changed, so veterans who retired after 1997 got the same pensions as UK service personnel.
The logic behind this decision initially was that many Gurkhas retired in Nepal, where the living costs are lower than living in the UK or India. However Gurkhas who provide service to Indian army are given equal pension as the Indian army personnel, without any discrimination.
Speaking to Asian Voice, Retired Major Tikendra Dal Dewan, Chair of The British Gurkha Welfare Society said, “We want equal treatment and equal pension. UK government make it sound like this pension increase is a big deal. It's not. It's a pure entitlement. Even if there is an increment of 32%, still it is less than 50% of what the British personnel get paid. That is the level of discrimination.”
Mr Dewan has served 31 years in the regiment, but according to the pension scheme, he has lost 18 years of pay. He is now planning to make a joint plan with other Gurkhas and approach MPs for justice.
The BGWS took this issue to European Court of Human Rights in 2016, but did not have much luck