Former Gurkha soldiers in the UK armed forces have lost a major legal battle that sought parity in pension rights with their British counterparts, a verdict described as a “shattering blow” by the ex-war veterans from Nepal.

Launched by the British Gurkha Welfare Society, the legal case was that nearly 24,000 Gurkha veterans who served in the British armed forces before 1997 and their dependents who live in Nepal receive only a third of what their British counterparts get in pensions.

After losing the case, the society said in a statement: “Gurkhas injustice continues.”

Major Tikendra Dewan, Chairman of the British Gurkha Welfare Society (BGWS), said they would fight on despite the “shattering blow. We are bitterly disappointed. We had hoped British justice would prevail.”

“We are saddened by the court’s decision,” said Mahendra Lal Rai, general secretary of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation. “We don’t understand why we continue to be denied equal pension rights when we have received settlement rights and equal status with the UK army.”

Society officials believe that losing the case would encourage former Gurkha soldiers to move to Britain where they won the right to settle last year.

Justice Ian Burnett of the High Court said the British people had “high regard” for the Gurkhas, but rejected their challenge on the grounds the Ministry of Defence had not acted unlawfully.

General secretary Chhatra Rai said: “The approach of the Ministry of Defence makes no sense since it is clear that considerable cost savings could be made if Gurkhas would feel less pressure to settle in the UK This would also put less pressure on the British welfare system.

The ministry had argued that because Gurkha pensions are payable over a longer time than regular armed forces pensions, Gurkhas end up receiving the same amount as British veterans.

The judge rejected all the grounds of challenge and ruled the MoD had not acted unlawfully. The veterans were trying to increase the pensions of those who retired before 1997, which are a third of those paid to British soldiers.

Even these payouts are only available to troops who served for at least 15 years. Those who retired after July1, 1997 were granted equal pensions in 2007.

But 24,000 out of the 36,000 retired Gurkhas stopped serving before then and so were not covered, the British Gurkha Welfare Society said. The Gurkhas funded the 70,000 pounds case by asking veterans to chip in 100 each pounds. But they will now also be liable for the MoD’s costs, which may run into tens of thousands of pounds.

“All we were asking for is equal pay for equal service, so Gurkha veterans can live in dignity. But we will appeal and take it to the European Court of Human Rights, if necessary,” Mr. Dewan said.

About 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in World War I and World War II and more than 45,000 have died in British uniform.

Around 3,500 now serve in the British Army, including in Afghanistan. Dozens of British lawmakers had signed a House of Commons motion backing improved pension rights for Gurkhas.

One of the MPs supporting the move, Veteran Conservative Ann Widdecombe, said: “The Gurkhas have always been an integral part of the British armed forces, fighting the same wars and carrying out the same duties as British soldiers.

It is an injustice to give these veterans a pension based on their country of origin instead of the country in whose army they loyally served.”

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