An ex-serviceman, who once served in the Dogra Regiment and retired as a Subedar of the Indian Army, walked up to a "collection box" placed at the capital's Jantar Mantar, and deposited his prized possessions -- his military medals. And he was not alone.
Around 250 soldiers, including officers, deposited their military medals as a mark of protest against pension anomalies. The medals were returned to President Pratibha Patil, the commander-in-chief of the Indian armed forces, at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday.
Gathering under the aegis of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM), the ex-servicemen are disillusioned since their demand for "one-rank, one-pension" (OROP) has not been implemented by the government. The ex-soldiers' demand under the OROP is: "Two individuals retiring after equal length of service and from the same rank must get equal pension."
The Pay Commission's recommendations for a hike in pension for retiring armed forces personnel did not have retrospective effect. The IESM said that a Havildar who retired before January 1, 2006 would receive Rs 5,239 as pension, but a Havildar retiring in 2006 or thereafter would receive Rs 8,030.
Similarly, a Brigadier's pension would be Rs 26,150 or Rs 31,170 depending on whether he retired before or during/after 2006.
The disparity manifests not just between pensioners of the same rank, but between pensioners of different ranks. For example, a Havildar, who is of a higher rank than a Sepoy, would draw Rs 5,008 pension if he retired before 1996. His pension would be 37 per cent lesser than the pension of a Sepoy (Rs 6,860) who retired in 2006.
Wing Commander (retired) C K Sharma, who was overseeing the collection of the returned medals, said the IESM had been holding a hunger strike since December 16, 2008, but the government had been indifferent to its views.
Speakers who addressed the hundreds of soldiers at the IESM rally today, said ex-servicemen had been given a raw deal, considering that the OROP's equivalent principle was applicable to parliamentarians, members of the state legislators and judges. Civil servants with designations of secretaries, special secretaries and other senior posts were also beneficiaries under the provision of 'fixed salaries', said an IESM statement.
Political parties have taken note of the demands made by ex-servicemen, but it has remained in the election manifestos only.
The Congress, too, listed OROP in its manifesto for the 2004 elections, but the United Progressive Alliance government has not addressed this issue, said a retired Army officer. Highlighting the plight of jawans, he said a recommendation that jawans, who usually retire in their mid-30s, could be given lateral entry into the paramilitary forces or the police have also been rejected by the Centre.