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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 10:27 GMT
Gurkha's case could cost 2bn
Gurkhas
Gurkhas are lining up to get a fairer deal on pensions
An industrial tribunal involving a former Gurkha living in Wales could cost the UK Government up to 2bn.

The hearing into the case of ex-Lance Corporal Hari Thapa - who is claiming racial discrimination by the Ministry of Defence - was opened and adjourned on Monday in Cardiff.

But Mr Thapa faces a long wait for compensation if he is successful, as the tribunal could run until 2005.

Hari Thapa, former Gurkha
Mr Thapa claims payments were discriminatory

Mr Thapa, who retired to Cwmbran, south Wales, was given exemplary discharge from the Army five years ago.

In the 15 years he served, he was paid 43,000 less than other soldiers.

Now he lives on a Gurkha pension of just 71 - which is much less than other British veterans receive.

Gurkha pay had been tied to that of the Indian army, by an international agreement signed in 1947.

But Mr Thapa's barrister, Robin Allen QC, said that agreement was not binding, and the treatment of Gurkhas amounted to racial discrimination.

Long wait

It has been estimated that, if Mr Thapa wins, thousands of Gurkha pensioners and widows could claim up to 2bn in compensation.

Mr Thapa has been fighting for equality for several years, and has been waiting since February for his hearing to re-start.

The MoD was accused in February of "delaying tactics" by the tribunal's chairwoman.

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

Gurkha parade
Gurkha troops are known for their distinctive uniform

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 has always insisted the payments were adequate because most Gurkhas retired back to Nepal, where the cost of living was considerably less than in the UK.

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 earlier this year: "We have considerable sympathy with Mr Thapa. He has waited a long time for this procedure and he may have to wait longer.

'Unreasonable'

"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."

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.


More from south east Wales
See also:

17 Jan 02 | England
16 Jan 02 | England
05 Sep 01 | South Asia
14 Jan 02 | England
28 Oct 99 | Europe
11 Mar 01 | South Asia
19 Dec 00 | Politics
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