Narendra Modi government on Saturday decided to implement the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme. Addressing a section of the media on Saturday afternoon, Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said, “The Government of India respects its defence forces. They display courage and bravery in difficult circumstances. The issue of OROP has been pending for over four decades and the Prime Minister has on many occasions reiterated this government’s commitment to implement OROP.” Parrikar added that the previous government had estimated that implementation of the scheme would cost Rs 500 crore, however the “reality is that OROP scheme would cost 8,000 crore to the exchequer. Therefore, the government has decided to implement the OROP scheme despite huge financial burden.”
Veterans demanding the implementation of the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme met the defence minister on Saturday. “OROP will be implemented from 1 July, 2014 and the base year for calculating the arrears has been fixed at 2013. Personnel who opt for voluntary retirement will not be covered under the OROP scheme,” Parrikar told the media. “The pension will be re-fixed every five years. A one-member judicial committee will be constituted, and the panel will give reports in six months. Expenditure on arrears alone would be Rs 10,000-12,000 crore.”
Since there are many cases of veterans of the same rank earning different pensions, the government proposed to take the average of the maximum and minimum pensions paid per rank, while protecting those who earn above average pensions in their rank. “All widows, including war widows, will be paid arrears in one installment. Further enhancement in the rate of pensions will be automatically passed to past pensioners, bridging the gap between current and past pensioners,” Parrikar said.
Earlier in the day, Major-General Satbir Singh (retd), who is leading the OROP campaign, had said that the government has agreed to implementing the OROP scheme, however according to him there is still a deadlock on the issue of pension revision period, which is five years. However, after Parrikar’s announcement, General Singh spoke to the media and said that the protesting-servicemen were not happy with government’s proposal. “We will continue to protest. We are not fully satisfied. Out of the six demands that we made, the government has only agreed with one. We want clarification on the premature retirement point in the OROP from the government. We want a clarification on the VRS issue, if they still don’t accept it, then it is a big blow to the forces.”
Speaking to mediapersons at Jantar Mantar, the venue of the protest, Singh, however, indicated a softening of position towards the government, saying the hunger strike would be called off but the veterans would continue their agitation till all their major demands were met.
Singh said they welcomed the government’s decision but observed that the base year and five-year period to revise the pension still remained contentious issues. They also rejected the proposal on VRS and the announced shape of the one-man judicial committee. “Revision of pension after every five years will not be in the spirit of One Rank, One Pension, it will be One Rank, Five Pensions,” said Singh addressing the striking veterans.
Explaining how, he observed, “Many serving men in uniform will retire in the five year period and they will continue to get pension more than what their seniors, who retired in the same rank earlier, are drawing. Therefore, we urge the government to rethink it.”
Rejecting the announcement of the government to constitute a one-man committee headed by a retired Supreme Court justice to suggest the government a mechanism for equalisation of salaries being drawn by senior and junior ex-servicemen, he added, “We will not accept the proposed one-man commission. It should comprise three military veterans and an official from the Ministry of Defence. We will recommend three names who will represent us. The defence minister can pick any officer of his choice from his ministry.”
He also rejected to accept the government’s decision to exclude those who have taken pre-mature retirement from the benefits of OROP. “We have reiterated time and again that there is no concept of VRS (voluntary retirement scheme) in defense forces. Those who take pre-mature retirement already draw pension and that is why, they are entitled to OROP,” he argued. If the government accepts these demands, then only they would call off the strike, he said.
The veterans have announced a mega rally at the Jantar Mantar where ex-servicemen from across the country will be called in a show of strength. They have also decided to intensify their agitation and take it throughout the country. “If the government does not listen to our demands, we might consider sending three lakh veterans to the poll-bound Bihar to campaign against the BJP,” he told.
Asked why does not he accept what the government had promised to implement, he replied, “The definition of OROP has already been approved by two successive Parliaments and the apex court as well. The government is not doing charity, it is our right.”
General VK Chaturvedi told, “In defense services, there is no concept of VRS. We have pre-mature retirement system and those who go for it should also be given OROP because they have services the defence forces and are drawing pension. They are relieved with the consent of the ministry. If it rejects their application, they cannot leave the service. Therefore, OROP becomes their legitimate right.”
The veterans are also unhappy with the government’s decision to set up one man judicial commission to evolve a mechanism for equalisation of the pension being drawn by senior and junior ex-servicemen. “The judicial commission should have representatives of the veterans as well as serving men,” said Col Bhatiya, who retired from Indian Navy.
He said the promised time to submit the committee’s report is also not ‘justified’. “One month is sufficient to give the committee’s recommendations,” he added.
It is understood that a draft proposal on OROP was circulated at a RSS meeting on Friday which envisaged commencement of the scheme from 1 July, 2014, besides the revision of pensions every five years. According to the draft, the basis for the implementation of the scheme will be 2013, and arrears are to be paid in four instalments.
The veterans and the government have been negotiating for months now. The Prime Minister’s Office stepped in last month after the protests escalated into a hunger-strike and a few veterans were taken critically sick.
Soldiers were brought, alongside other Central government employees, under the ambit of the Pay Commission in 1983. The following year, a 17-member committee headed by minister of state for defence Kamakhya Prasad Singh Deo submitted a proposal that is credited with carrying the first reference to OROP.
Unfortunately, there has been no movement by the government on the issue since.
Close to 26 lakh retired servicemen and over six lakh war widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme, which envisages a uniform pension for the defence personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement.
Currently, the pension for retired personnel is based on the Pay Commission recommendations of the time when he or she retired. So, a Major General who retired in 1996 draws less pension than a Lt Colonel who retired after 1996.