As per the Army‘s projections, by 2030-32, half of its soldiers will be Agniveers – a military service scheme that will retain them for four years, followed by a selection plan to retain 25% of them as part of the regular cadre. The 75% of soldiers who will not be retained are not entitled to the ECHS plan after discharge, according to the terms of service published by the armed forces.
A bulk of the 55 lakh plus beneficiaries under ECHS are soldiers and their families, with the scheme covering all dependents for a range of ailments and health care needs. In the past few years, the scheme has come under tremendous financial pressure, with hospital bills pending to the tune of over Rs 1,100 crore at times and allocations from the budget being significantly lower that the amount projected by the defence ministry.
According to official figures, the projected expenditure under ECHS for the 2021-22 financial year was Rs 5,643 crore. Against this, the ministry was allocated only Rs 3,332 crore, resulting in a major shortfall. Though additional funds are made available later in the year, the scheme has been short on money on an annual basis to meet timely payment obligations to hospitals.
As per information supplied by the ministry to the parliamentary standing committee on defence in June 2021 the pendency of bills to empanelled hospitals stood at Rs 1,112.59 crore. This shortfall and pendency of bills has been an annual feature for the scheme, as budgetary allocations have never met the expenditure projected by the ministry.
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Ex servicemen organisations have complained to the defence ministry over non availability of medicines and refusal of hospitals to admit ECHS beneficiaries under the cashless process as pending bills have not been paid. At a meeting with senior defence ministry officials in July 30 last year, representatives of the five recognised ex servicemen organisations had registered protests that there was a shortage of medicines in ECHS empanelled hospitals and delays in reimbursements of medical bills.