After an 83-day-long agitation by armed forces veterans, the government, in an effort to clear up the logjam on One Rank One Pension (OROP) for ex-servicemen, has drafted a provisional document on the implementation of the scheme. However media reports have quoted several ex-servicemen terming it “unilateral”, and rejecting the draft.
The major sticking point remains the issue of equalisation. The government is firm on the revision every five years in view of the administrative difficulties of doing it annually, however, the veterans have rejected it. Talks are continuing to find common ground.
Last month, two of the protesting ex-servicemen stepped up their agitation on the demand for implementation of the One Rank One Pension scheme at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, by going on a fast till death, demanding the early implementation of the long-pending scheme.
"Col Pushpender Singh (Retd) and Haviladar Major Singh rpt Major Singh (Retd) have undertaken fast unto death from today," Col Anil Kaul (Retd), media advisor to the United Front of Ex-Servicemen Movement, said as the agitation at Jantar Mantar entered its 64th day, last month.
The protesters have been on a relay hunger strike so far. Havildar Major had been on relay hunger strike since the agitation started.
To the disappointment of protesting ex-servicemen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not given a specific timeline for the implementation of 'One Rank One Pension' (OROP) in his Independence Day address on 15 August.
"Every government has even given small promises but the issue has not been resolved. Even after I came, I have not been able to do it till now. Today, I am assuring my soldiers once again...in-principle OROP has been accepted by us but talks with stakeholders are on," he had said in his Independence Day address. "A solution has to be found for an issue which has been lingering for 20-25 years. I expect good news seeing the way the talks are going on. And that is why I again promise that in-principle, this government has accepted OROP," the PM had said.
General (Retd) VP Malik, the Indian Army chief during the Kargil war, had said on Friday that he had acted as mediator between ex-servicemen and the Modi government on the OROP issue but had given up "within 48 hours", according to a Hindustan Times report.
The main dispute, according to the report, was the argument over which year's scales should be taken as base for OROP. The government wants to take the 2011 rates while veterans want those of 2014.
The reason for the anger among the veterans is the long delay in the implementation of the One Rank One Pension scheme.
The OROP scheme has been a long-standing demand of the over two million ex-servicemen of India. It seeks to ensure that a uniform pension is paid to the defence personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement.
The scheme is estimated to cost around Rs 8,600 crore initially and subsequently several crore rupees annually.
Currently, all pre-2006 pensioners receive lesser pension than not only their counterparts but also their juniors.
The demand for the implementation of OROP had led to a massive protest on 8 February 2009, when more than 300 retired soldiers of varying ranks had marched to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi and had returned medals won in combat and for distinguished service as they sought equal pension for each rank.
The veterans were among the thousands who had gathered earlier in the day at the Jantar Mantar observatory in the heart of the capital for a protest that some said marked a black day for the Indian armed forces.
However, it still took five years for the government to recognise this demand made by the military veterans. In February 2014, the government accepted the long-standing demand of ex-servicemen for OROP and had allocated Rs 500 crore to the Defence Pension Account for the implementation of the scheme.
The scheme had also been announced in the Interim Budget in February 2014, but was yet to be implemented.
A few days after this development, Narendra Modi, who was then rallying for the Lok Sabha polls, had slammed the Congress for delay in implementation of OROP.
"The government, which is sitting in Delhi has always been playing a farce with the Armed Forces. Before this also, a number of times, the Finance Minister of Congress had made announcements about One Rank One Pension but never fulfilled it," Modi had said.
"Even this time since I am repeatedly talking about it, they have announced it but this is a fraud with you. Had Congress party been honest, they had the chance to it in 10 budgets from 2004 to 2014. But they did not do it," he had said.
Modi had also claimed that "only our government will be able to implement it."
After coming to power, the Modi government also had a perspective on OROP different from past governments. Past governments contended that granting the full scheme was neither financially nor administratively possible because it could lead to similar demands from other government employees, according to Economic Times. But the Modi government argued that the service of other government employees could not be equated to that of the military because military officers retired at a much earlier age, generally between 34-35 years of age, and also underwent prolonged and stressful tenures.
In the July 2014 Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had also announced an allocation of Rs 1000 crore for this scheme.
In December 2014, Parrikar had said that OROP will be implemented in the defence forces before the next Budget.
However, while presenting the Budget 2015, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did not announce its implementation. “I have already, in the last budget, said that we are going to implement One Rank One Pension. This need not be stated on every occasion. We are completely committed to it,” Jaitley had told reporters when asked about the delay in launching the scheme.
Explaining the reasons behind the delay, Jaitley had said: “The methodology of calculating the One Rank, One Pension is an issue pending between the services and the defence ministry.”
On 17 February this year, the Supreme Court had directed the Centre to implement its six-year-old verdict to follow OROP and had also reminded the BJP of its pre-poll promise made to the people, according to Hindustan Times. The apex court had given this order while hearing a contempt petition filed by Maj Gen (Retd) SPS Vains.
In 2009, the Supreme Court, in the case of Union of India & Maj Gen SPS Vains & Others, had ruled that "no defence personnel senior in rank could get a lower pension than his junior irrespective of the date of retirement, and that similarly placed officers of the same rank should be given the same pension irrespective of the date of retirement," according to Scroll.
It was expected that PM Modi would make an announcement on OROP during his rally in Mathura to mark his government's first anniversary. But to the disappointment of many ex-servicemen, he did not do so.
Miffed over the delay in the roll-out of the scheme for the armed forces, 1971 war veteran Wing Commander (Retd) Suresh Karnik and Wing Commander (Retd) KV Bopardikar on 28 May had boycotted a gallantry award function in Pune attended by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
At the function, Parrikar had said that his ministry had completed all formalities in respect of the one rank-one pension' (OROP) scheme for ex-servicemen and nobody should try to "politicise" the issue, according to PTI.
"My ministry has completed all formalities and OROP will be implemented," he had said, adding that the executive process takes some time. "People still do not know financial implications of this. The Defence Ministry has completed its calculations and there was a unanimous agreement with the Armed Forces on the formula," he had added.
Parrikar had also said that the figure of the One Rank One Pension scheme provision had touched about Rs 22,000 crore since he took over as Defence Minister.
The Defence Minister had also said that he is working hard on the scheme and the MoD will send its views to the Finance Minister by 17 February next year, according to IBNLive.
On the other hand, praising the veterans for boycotting the function, almost all veterans' organisations in the country had decided to boycott government functions.
He had said the veterans plan to go on hunger strike if the government does not keep its promise.
Lt Gen B Pandit (retd), who spoke on behalf of the veterans, had said delay in the implementation of OROP was causing anxiety among the fraternity.
"It is the sacred responsibility of the state to create conditions to keep the morale of the Armed Forces high," he had said.
(With agency inputs)
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Updated Date: Sep 05, 2015 13:13:07 IST