PM balm for ex-servicemen
In his ‘Mann ki Baat’ radio address on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government is committed to implementing the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme for ex-servicemen. Modi, however, sought more time to resolve the complexities involved in its implementation. In an interview to a Chandigarh-based daily, the prime minister further clarified that “varied versions about what the definition of OROP should be” has brought a halt to proceedings. These comments arrived after many army veterans’ organisations across the country had decided to boycott future government functions in light of the Centre’s inability to implement the OROP scheme, despite definitive promises. In his first election rally at Rewari in 2013, after he was declared the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pledged to implement OROP. The delay in the implementation of this scheme is perplexing to say the least.
As per the scheme, a uniform pension will be paid to the defence personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Any future enhancement in the rates of pension, according to reports, must be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. The difference in the pension of present and past pensioners in the same rank occurs on account of the number of increments earned by the defence personnel in that rank. According to reports, the scheme is estimated to initially cost around Rs 8,600 crore and will likely benefit around three million defence pensioners. Currently, all pre-2006 pensioners receive lesser pension than not only their counterparts but also their juniors. It is a situation that must be remedied at the earliest.
Modi’s contention that there are “varied versions” of the definition of OROP leaves one bemused. According to many ex-servicemen, there is only one definition of OROP, which was adopted by not only the previous Central government, but the current Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence. The President of India had himself described the OROP as an “urgent need”. In his maiden Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced an allocation of Rs 1000 crore for this scheme. In December 2014, Defence Minister Parrikar had also said that the OROP will be implemented before the subsequent Budget. Two Budgets have come and gone, and we’ve had no policy implementation.
Earlier this year, the apex court had directed the Centre to implement its six-year-old verdict to follow the OROP scheme within a stringent time frame. The apathy of politicians towards retired veterans has led to a gradual deterioration in their living standards, with many unable to meet rising costs in their twilight years. The least we can do for our soldiers is ensure that they live their sunset years with comfort and dignity. It’s time Prime Minister Modi fulfilled the first of his long list of promises.