Upping their ante against the Central government, retired veterans of the forces started a countrywide relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Monday while threatening to hold rallies in poll-bound Bihar over the delay in implementation of the ‘One Rank, One Pension’ (OROP). Their agitation seems to be growing with every passing day. From Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar to Dehradun and various other places in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana, they are determined to continue the protest till their promised OROP is not given to them.
According to recent estimates, their protest is expected to spread to 55 centres across Jammu, Jalandhar, Ambala, Madurai, Mumbai etc. As of now a total of 40 organisations are supporting this cause nationwide but talking about the bigger picture, this fight was never about the pension alone but about the pride of the ex-serviceman, which has deeply been hurt. Due to this neglect, the stock of the forces is fast declining and the politico-bureaucratic nexus seems to be the sole reason.
The Indian armed forces justifiably looked towards Narendra Modi when he became the Prime Minister but he proved to be a major disappointment. Modi needs to understand that he is fast running out of steam on matters related to defence.
India has become a laughing stock because of his laid back approach towards the defence
sector of the country. His attitude has left India vulnerable to rivals like Pakistan.
Modi’s much talked about “Make in India” seems to be moving rather slowly and the one issue that has left a bitter among the defence veterans is the OROP. It sends a clear signal that the present government is thin on living <g data-gr-id="159">upto</g> its promises. Back in 1973, before the pay commission, the pension of the soldier was brought down from 75 per cent to 50 per cent while the officers’ pension remained unchanged and the civilian counterpart, whose pension was 33 <g data-gr-id="155">per cent</g>, was increased to 50 <g data-gr-id="156">per cent</g> for services rendered. India, in 1973, was placed very delicately financially. In 2009, the status of officers was further downgraded vis-a-vis civilian Group A services. This was done despite knowing the fact that only 0.2 <g data-gr-id="152">per cent</g> officers reached Higher Administrative Grade after 32 years of service.
In the same year, India was facing a tough situation globally and money was in short supply yet the bureaucracy managed a hefty pay packet. Today, as per government’s data, India is growing faster than China yet it does not have enough funds for those who face the Chinese army head on every time they try to intrude across the line of actual control! The question thus remains, if it is not about finances than what is it about?
When <g data-gr-id="153">babus</g> (civil servants) ask for 17 <g data-gr-id="154">per cent</g> increase in their pension no financial figures are bandied but when defence forces, whose soldiers retire at the age of 36, financial figures are put across as the major reason behind the “no increase”. Indian soldiers retire young and this puts an average defence personnel at least two pay commissions behind his civilian counterpart. This leaves him with very little scope of re-employment and thus OROP becomes a must for him to suffice his basic living.
By now the nation must hang its head in shame. TV channels are brimming with their sad stories and the pictures of those standing and signing <g data-gr-id="186">in bl</g>ood are there before you. The old, grey-haired and disabled, who should be playing with their grandchildren and telling them tales of nation-building, are standing on the road begging for their rights.
These are the same people who <g data-gr-id="162">sacrificied</g> their life so you could live in peace and who maintained the pride of the national flag and held it high. Sadly, these important citizens of our country are made to return their medals they once wore and paraded with on 26 January every year. These are the same people, who are still willing to fight and serve the country to keep the flag soaring high.
All about OROP
“One Rank One Pension” is a scheme that lays down that the retired soldiers of the same rank and length of service will receive the same pension, regardless of when they retire. The scheme was laid out in 2014, but has not been implemented yet.What is government’s track record while dealing with defence veterans and why the deep distrust on OROP? This deep distrust, between the veterans and the Ministry of Defence also colloquially called the Ministry against Defence (MAD), has been built by the government.
The distrust lies in the manner by which the service headquarters are treated as an appendage, regarding arms purchases, <g data-gr-id="157">non representation</g> in successive pay commissions and goes on to become a veteran.
Let’s recall some events to show apathy towards veterans. The armed forces have been constantly devalued in the name of civilian supremacy. The same continued and the icing on the cake was while implementing the 4th pay commission (1986) <g data-gr-id="393">recommendations,</g> when the rank pay was merged along with the basic pay.
As defence officers only tend to see the last line of their salary slip, none was wiser till Major Dhanpalan took the government to court and won the same for rank pay arrears. Soon other veterans and their organisations took the government to court who ruled in their favour as well. But this was not the end of the story! The MAD hit back an SLP and went back to the Supreme Court. The veterans won the same after a protracted legal battle in the court.
If this was not enough, while paying arrears the veterans were again <g data-gr-id="158">targetted</g> by the establishment who twisted the Supreme Court’s ruling to their advantage, thus taking the matter to the court again. The veterans were eventually paid their arrears but after employing every legal twist and turn by the establishment. To add fuel <g data-gr-id="222">to f</g>ire, the broad banding issue left war injured empty handed. They were not paid their dues until an old vice chief of the Army had to take the matter to the court.
Amidst this atmosphere comes the present defence minister of our country meaning well but unable to get past the bureaucracy, who now want to redefine the OROP. Passing through this tedious process of asking for their dues, the veterans are tired of hearing false promises and fake statements. The deeply hurt, bruised and wounded ex-servicemen of India’s Armed Forces feel cheated as time is running out and they see their friends fall like nine pins while the state <g data-gr-id="161">dilly dallies</g>
and buys time.
They seem to have lost hope in the system and expressed their anguish towards the bureaucracy, which they feel is responsible for the step-motherly treatment meted out to them. The fault lies with the government as they mishandled not one but a number of issues.
Politically speaking, the OROP till date has been a vote catcher and every political party has played it to the hilt. In the last two general elections it has been employed as a favourite method to garner veterans’ votes. The Koshiyari committee report settled the issue once and for all. According to estimates dependent veterans votes along with their families could amount to approximately 26 lakh ex-servicemen and 6.5 lakh widows. In certain states, veterans are game changers like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and of course Uttarakhand.
Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Part have promised the same in an undiluted manner, the way the <g data-gr-id="400">faujis</g> understand. <g data-gr-id="409">Currently</g> the ex-servicemen of India’s Armed Forces see it as a fake
promise and plan to continue their agitation till the present government comes up with an answer.
They are determined to seek answers in written. The truth of the matter is that the ex-servicemen of the Indian Armed Forces stand in no position to trust any political party and this will remain a bitter pill for life.