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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 22:38 GMT
MoD delays Gurkha's 'race' pension case
Gurkhas are lining up to get a fairer deal on pensioners
A former Gurkha bringing a race-based employment tribunal againt the Ministry of Defence has seen his case adjourned until later in the year.

Lance Corporal Hari Thapa claims a monthly pension imbalance - just 58 against Army veterans' 450 payment - amounts to racial discrimination.

His test case could bring the government a bill of up to 2bn if he is successful.

In our view the MoD's conduct of the tribunal litigation has been so unreasonable as to have constituted an abuse of process

Tribunal chairwoman Dr Rachel Davies

Against this background, the MoD was accused of "delaying tactics" by the tribunal's chairwoman as the hearing which was to last two weeks was delayed until possibly the summer.

A British passport holder stationed at Brecon, Mr Thapa from Cwmbran, south Wales, was angered by the MoD's basic salary rate of 17.50 per month during service and the 58 pension after discharge in 1997.

He was recruited to the armed forces under a 1947 tripartite agreement between the UK, India and Nepal, which links Gurkhas' pay and pensions to those in the Indian Army.

But the MoD insists the payments are adequate because most Gurkhas retire back to Nepal, where the cost of living is considerably less than in the UK.

Hari Thapa, former Gurkha
Mr Thapa claims reduced payments amount to discrimination

Victory at the tribunal in Cardiff could spark a flood of claims from up to 30,000 Gurkhas and 6,000 widows.

Chairwoman Dr Rachel Davies. said: "We have considerable sympathy with Mr Thapa. He has waited a long time for this procedure and he may have to wait longer.

"He has been the victim of an internal redress procedure which appears to us to be either inefficient or unwilling or absurdly cumbersome."

She added: "In our view the MoD's conduct of the tribunal litigation has been so unreasonable as to have constituted an abuse of process.

"The MoD has abused the extensions which have been granted by the tribunal by failing to keep them within reasonably confines."

A spokesman for the MoD said: "The MoD may have incurred delays but there have been equal delays caused by both sides. Any excess delay is regrettable for both sides."

UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon
UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon may find the ministry paying millions
Born in Hampshire, the former Queen's Own Gurkha Transport Brigade serviceman could have joined the British Army and claimed the higher rate of pension enjoyed by equivalent UK lance corporals.

But he followed in the footsteps of his Gurkha father, who was killed in Borneo fighting alongside UK servicemen.

Mr Thapa's case is being backed by the Commission for Racial Equality, which said the Ministry of Defence's responsibilities under the Race Relations Act 1976 outweigh the terms of the tripartite agreement.

But the MoD claims the Act does not cover the Gurkhas as they are recruited and discharged in Nepal.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch said: "The MoD must recognise that it cannot treat 21st century soldiers like 19th century conscripts.

"The Gurkhas are entitled to the same pay and benefits as ordinary British soldiers.

"The special historical arrangement which allows the MoD to treat Gurkhas as second class soldiers must end."

The tribunal was set to analyse thousands of pages of documents, Acts of Parliament dating to the 17th century and the constitutional position of the Army.

Gurkhas: In profile
Who are the elite Nepalese soldiers?
See also:

17 Jan 02 | England
Race-claim Gurkha awaits judgment
16 Jan 02 | England
Army denies racism claim
05 Sep 01 | South Asia
Gurkhas sue over pension payments
14 Jan 02 | England
Gurkha claims MoD was racist
28 Oct 99 | Europe
Benefit boost for Gurkha widows
11 Mar 01 | South Asia
Gurkhas demand better pensions
19 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Gurkha compensation ban angers MP
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