Prime Minister Narendra Modi today, did not commit a specific time-line for implementation of OROP- ‘one rank, one pension’ but stressed that talks were in the final stages, drawing sharp reactions from ex-servicemen who vowed to step up their protest.
Addressing the nation on the 69th Independence Day, Modi limited himself to giving assurance that the government has “in-principle” accepted the demand for OROP and it is working out the modalities.
Modi said in his Independence Day speech that OROP has been “accepted in principle” but acknowledged the issue is yet to be resolved. While it was anticipated he would announce the implementation of the scheme in his speech, the Prime Minister repeated what has been the government’s stand for a while.
“It has been stuck for 20 years…OROP was considered by all governments, but there is no resolution yet. Even I have not been able to solve it,” he said. “I am assuring again…I am speaking on behalf of 125 crore people, under the tricolour, from the ramparts of Red Fort…In principle we have accepted one rank one pension.”
Talks on the issue with all stakeholders had entered the final stage and the government is hopeful of a “positive outcome”, Modi said as military personnel continued their protest over OROP in Delhi.
Veterans and army widows protesting at Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi erupted in anger after Modi’s speech and criticised the government for failing to make a decision on OROP. Some called on former army chief VK Singh and Major (retired) Rajyavardhan Rathore to quit as members of Modi’s council of ministers.
Retired military personnel who have been protesting at Jantar Mantar for nearly two months said their demand had been pending for more than four decades. They noted that Modi had referred several times to “Team India” – the country’s population of more than one billion – but had neglected the armed forces, a key component of this team.
Lt Gen (retired) Bhopinder Singh, who served as Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry and military secretary to Presidents KR Narayanan and APJ Abdul Kalam, criticised the government for calling for “compromise and patience” on the issue of OROP.
“If these two words were used by defence forces on the borders, there will be a disaster for the country,” Singh told Hindustan Times. “This is not a complex issue, it is a very simple one…In my experience as an administrator, consultations are held before decisions.”
He said there is a “general feeling of disillusionment” in the armed forces, which are apolitical and have served governments led by both the BJP and Congress in times of war and peace. “The armed forces are an extended family that comprises both serving and retired personnel. This delay will have a disastrous effect on the serving personnel,” he said.
On Friday, former military personnel demanding the implementation of OROP were angered by attempts by police to forcibly remove them from Jantar Mantar as part of security arrangements for Independence Day. Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju intervened and instructed Delhi Police commissioner B S Bassi not to evict the protestors.
“It was sad and pathetic to see the way old soldiers were treated by the police. These are the people who are the spirit of Team India that the Prime Minister referred to,” Singh said.
The veterans recounted the times Modi had promised that OROP would be implemented as soon as he came to power and said he had betrayed them. They said they would not budge from Jantar Mantar until an announcement was made about the scheme.
“The PM says Team India, Team India. Are we not Team India?” a veteran said, referring to the term Modi used repeatedly in his speech. Another protestor said it was a “direct insult”.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, in his address to the armed forces on Friday, said OROP had been held up by “technical difficulties”. He said: “Welfare measures pertaining to pension, including broad-banding, ex-gratia compensation and OROP, are receiving highest priority of the government.”
On Friday, the protest took a political turn when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited Jantar Mantar to extend support to the veterans. Some military personnel, however, asked him why the UPA did not implement OROP during its tenure.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was among those who backed the veterans and urged Modi to accept their demand. “Ex-servicemen being forcibly thrown out of Jantar Mantar? Bizarre. They protected us till yesterday. Now they are a security threat for Independence Day?” the Aam Aadmi Party leader tweeted on Friday.
All personnel who retired before 2006, the year the 6th pay panel’s report became effective, receive smaller pensions than their counterparts and their juniors. A major general who retired in 1995, for instance, draws a basic pension of Rs 30,350 but an officer retiring in the same rank after 2006 gets Rs 38,500.
The OROP scheme is expected to benefit close to 3 million defence pensioners and 600,000 widows. Decorated veterans have in the past returned medals and signed petitions in blood to draw the government’s attention to the issue.
Retired military officers pointed out that most bureaucrats retire at the age of 60, while soldiers usually retire at the age of 35 to 37 and officers at 54. They said soldiers are retired early to keep the army young and they must be compensated.