The appointment of Kargil hero, Brigadier (retd) Khushal Thakur as Chairman cum Managing Director of Himachal Pradesh Ex-Servicemen Corporation just as the country celebrated 20 years of Kargil victory comes as good news for ex-soldiers in the hill state.

A fighter, the retired brigadier, who spearheaded the counter-attack at Tololing and Tiger Hills as Commanding Officer of 18 Grenadiers in Indian Army that dislodged the intruding Pakistani forces from formidable heights, is ready to take on the challenge in a new field with the same spirit. He hails from Nagwain in Mandi district.

“It is a great honour and an opportunity to work for the economic upliftment of ex-servicemen in the state. It is a challenging task so far as finances are concerned as the Corporation has to generate its own resources, being a semi government organisation,” Thakur told The Statesman in an interview.

Thakur, who visits Tololing and Tiger Hills every year on ‘Vijay Diwas’ (26 July) to pay tributes to the soldiers who lost their lives (34 from 18 Grenadiers out of total 527 martyrs) defending the borders of the country during Kargil war, said ‘veer bhoomi’ of Himachal and has over 2.25 lakh families of ex-soldiers and soldiers living in the state. Many soldiers are retiring every year.

“We need to do more for rehabilitation and resettlement of ex-servicemen in the state,” he said, as he prepares to join on 31 July at Hamirpur after paying a courtesy call to Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who picked him up for the meaningful assignment.

He said so far the retired soldiers have been getting quota in cement factories in Barmana and Darlaghat for truckloads and the openings for their rehabilitation are limited. “We will take it up with the state government that the security at places like Indira Gandhi Medical College or other places should be given in the hands of ex-servicemen. We will also get in touch with Corporate Houses,” he said.

He said after privatisation, the number of ex-servicemen in such jobs has reduced and they are being sidelined, despite the fact that they are more apt, trained and credible.

Thakur said it was a challenging job to make the Ex-Servicemen Corporation self-sustainable by creating own income sources while finding out job opportunities for ex-soldiers and their wards in different areas. “We will have to diversify. We will have to bring together stakeholders to explore agriculture, tourism or other sectors in this regard,” he said.

He said Punjab has done many things for the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen. “We will see that model also,” he said.

Thakur, who had been in a lead role, fighting for the rights of over 40,000 families who are losing their lands, homes, and livelihood to pave the way for four-lane projects in Himachal Pradesh, for past some years by forming Four Lane Sangharsh Samiti, said the movement for fair compensation to the affected families will get a boost.

“Now that I will be a part of the government in a way, there can be better coordination on the issue” he said.

Thakur, who retired from Indian Army in 2010 and is a popular face, was earlier a BJP ticket aspirant from Mandi Lok Sabha seat. “It is about service to people. The Ex-Servicemen Corporation is a wonderful opportunity for that,” he said.