KATHMANDU, September 8: The Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) coalition government has fulfilled an almost 14-year old controversial Indian demand to set up a Pension Paying Office (PPO) in Butwal of Rupandehi district.
Indian Ambassador to Nepal Manjeev Singh Puri laid the foundation stone of the proposed PPO amidst a quiet function held in Butwal on Wednesday. The Indian embassy in Kathmandu said in a statement that the PPO will benefit some 45,000 Indian Army Gurkha pensioners and family pensioners in the region.
Each successive government after January 2004, when the Indian request was approved by the then royal government led by Gyanendra Shah, had been rejecting the proposal, questioning the very rationale of establishing yet another such body in the face of growing banking networks across Nepal.
But on March 20, 2017, former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government had given a go-ahead to the controversial proposal, allotting additional land covered by forest in the adjoining areas of the present Indian District Soldier Board (DSB) in Butwal.
Officials said the then Minister for Forest, Shanker Bhandari had put forth a direct proposal in the cabinet to approve the allotment of additional land for the establishment of PPO next to the DSB, while Prime Minister Dahal had endorsed it, ignoring the controversies surrounding it.
As the governments after the fall of the then royal regime continuously rejected the establishment of yet another pension camp amid growing network of Indian pension offices in Nepal, India on its part had been persistently nudging the Nepali side for approval. Interestingly, this issue had drawn so much of Indian interest that this figured not only during the visits of Indian army chiefs to Nepal but also during the visit of the then President Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Although the Indian side had put forth its demands with the then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, this issue was shelved after the prime minister reportedly turned down the request. The Indian move to establish the PPO in Butawal follows the Indian side establishing an unauthorized field office in Biratnagar, despite repeated correspondences in the past from Nepal government to shut it down.
Currently, India has 25 DSBs and two PPOs in Pokhara and Dharan. Separately, India also runs an office to oversee pension of Gurkha pensioners. Experts and a section of politicians in Nepal opine that it is not a good idea to allow Indian defense mechanisms to spread their wings through such offices when the same thing can be done through the banking channel.
Vice Chairman of the main opposition party, CPN-UML, Bhim Rawal said the decision of the ruling parties to grant permission to establish yet another PPO has not come with good intentions. "The intention of India to spread its military offices in the name of pension distribution is dubious. We have been consistently saying that such offices are not required as we have already an excellent banking network across the country," said Rawal.