Early Light Combat Aircraft makers still await CCS pension

Since the last two decades, about 330 former ADA employees, who had joined the Agency before 2004 have been requesting the Centre for the CCS pension.
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)
Image used for representational purpose only. (Express Illustrations)

BENGALURU: After years of hard work by a dedicated team, the homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas took to the skies on January 4, 2001 on its maiden flight. The fighter added strength to the capabilities of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and gave a big boost to the “atmanirbhar” initiative. But those who formed the bedrock of the project at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) are still waiting for their Central Civil Services (CCS) pension.

Since the last two decades, about 330 former ADA employees, who had joined the Agency before 2004 have been requesting the Centre for the CCS pension. ADA was set up in 1984 as an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Defence and registered under the Societies Registration Act. Those who joined ADA after 2004 come under the pension scheme like other government employees, but not those who had joined before.

About 330 had joined before 2004 after resigning or taking voluntary retirement from their parent government departments, PSUs, and autonomous bodies as they wanted to serve a major national mission mode defence programme with their specific expertise and knowledge, the ADA Retired Employees Welfare Association (AREWA) stated in a memorandum submitted to the Union Finance Minister in June 2022.

“At that time, they could not forecast the fact that the loss of their lifetime pension in exchange for CPF (provident fund) benefits would result in extreme financial hardship for their families because of the currently prevailing meager returns on investment of their CPF benefits subsequent to their retirement,” the AREWA said.

Pension issue needs urgent attention: father of LCA

They explained that their situation has become acute following the COVID-19 pandemic and increased cost of living, housing, and children’s education.

The LCA is the most successful programme and they are hopeful of getting the pension, the association president Biju Uthup told The New Indian Express on Thursday. “Giving pension is the best award you can give to scientists and employees who have given the LCA to the nation,“ said Biju, who worked with ADA from 1987 to 2019. He was a project director of the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) project and an Outstanding Scientist.

Former Chief Public Relations Officer of ADA, JP Rao, said their fight for pension started right after the LCA’s maiden flight on January 4, 2001.

“We are not getting any pension. ADA was an autonomous body registered under the Societies Registration Act and it does not come under a Central government institution, though it was a central government body. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam (who later became India’s President) had done it to cut red-tapism to fast track the project,” said Rao, who worked in ADA right from the initial phase of the LCA development project.

The AREWA was formed in 2022. Apart from submitting memorandums to the Centre, its members had also met the Parliamentary Standing Committee members who had visited ADA. After the Parliamentary Standing Committee members took it up with the Defence Minister, AREWA got a response stating that their request was under consideration.

‘Father of the LCA project’ and former director of ADA, Dr Kota Harinarayana, also confirmed with The New Indian Express that every time they speak to the officials of the Ministry of Defence, they are told that they will get it done. “There is an absolute need for attention towards this issue, and they richly deserve it,” said the veteran scientist, after whose initials the very first LCA flying model was designated as “KH-01”.

Now, the retired ADA team members of the early phase of the project development hope the pension for them sees the light of day before the Election Code of Conduct comes into effect in the next few months ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

“From humble beginnings, we have come a long way. The development of Tejas has progressed at a very steady pace with the result that the aircraft has been inducted into the IAF and a large order has been placed. Best wishes to you all,” said Wg Cdr Rajiv Kothiyal KC (Retd), the pilot who flew the maiden flight of the LCA on January 4, 2001.

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