BY HERALD REPORTER
MARGAO, MAY 28, 2008 – When retired seafarers from Goa were promised of a hike in ex-gratia relief – commonly termed as pension — in February 2007, smiles lit the faces of many a retired seafarer that they can finally look to live a life with dignity.
Assurances of the possible hike in the pension by the general secretary of National Union of Seafarers of India, Abdulgani Y Serang and then Save Goa Front Leader Churchill Alemao were received with thunderous claps by the seafarers assembled at the NUSI Maritime Academy in February last year.
More than a year now, the retired seafarers community and their families – some of them in the prime of their life — are hoping against hope when the promise would become a reality.
Presently, the retired seamen and the widows are receiving a monthly ex-gratia relief of Rs 200. Besides, the seafarers and their families enjoy medical benefits at discounted rates at the NUSI hospital at Panzorconne.
The seafarers, however, have been raising the demand of a hike in their ex-gratia or pension as they refer to over the years, but in vain.
When contacted, NUSI representative at its office in Benaulim Xavier Rodrigues told Herald that no communication has come from the NUSI Mumbai office suggesting any substantial hike in the pension. He, however, said NUSI has streamlined the payment of this ex-gratia relief pending since 2005, clearing the relief in installments till date.
Retired Seafarers, however, contend that the existing relief of Rs 200 received by them and the widows is a pittance to meet even the primary needs. Hence, in their last memorandum addressed to Abdulgain Y Serang, the retired seafarers had demanded a hike of Rs 1000 so that they could live a life of dignity.
The seafarers had drawn attention of Abdulgani to the NUSI letter of November 1998 when late Dr Leo Barnes, NUSI ex-general secretary, had proposed various benefits to the seaman, laying emphasis on social security, a hike in pension benefits of Rs 1000 within 2-3 years time and to over Rs 1000 and medical assistance to the seafarers families.
When Herald contacted PWD Minister, Churchill Alemao on the matter, he said that NUSI is indeed working on a process to increase the ex-gratia relief. “I was told by Abdugani during his last visit to Goa that NUSI is already studying the pros and cons of increasing the ex-gratia relief. I am fully supporting the cause of the retired seafarers”, he added.