On a hunger strike since Monday at Jantar Mantar protesting the delay in the implementation of One Rank, One Pension scheme, veterans bemoan the ‘lack of intention’ shown by the Modi sarkar, who seem to have reneged on their poll promise.
Rediff.com contributor Upasna Pandey reports from the rally.
They fought the enemy on various fronts, no questions asked. However, today, ex-servicemen, who were willing to lay down their lives for the country, have been forced to go on a hunger strike to protest against the delay in the implementation of the long-promised One Rank, One Pension scheme.
At Jantar Mantar in the national capital a group of ex-servicemen have been on a relay hunger strike, vowing to remain hungry till the government provides them with one answer -- when will OROP be implemented. Speaking to Rediff.com, they say they trust the government, but want a date, not an assurance. Patience, they say, is wearing thin and the credibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is waning.
“We have been silent for the past 35 years, but now we have no option but to strike,” is the stance of the ex-servicemen who have not eaten a morsel of food since Monday.
At least 11 ex-servicemen are volunteering every day, for the relay fast in Delhi, and there are reports of similar sit-in relay fasts being organised across at least 22 cities.
At the gathering, Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement vice-chairman Major General Satbir Singh (retired) mimics how Modi took a bow to thank ex-servicemen at a rally in Rewari, Haryana in September 2013, promising to implement OROP within a year of coming to power.
However, one year has passed and there is little progress in the matter. “After making the promise, the PM is now saying that there are different ‘definitions’ of OROP, which need to be studied. We don’t understand how there is any scope for confusion. Give us access to the accounts of the three armed forces for seven days, and we will provide complete clarity on what is payable under OROP,” said Maj Gen Singh. The ex-servicemen expressed shock over the manner in which Modi has sought more time to resolve the OROP issue, ‘calling it a complex matter’.
The former soldiers said that in case, the government dithers any longer on the issue, they will “urge people of Bihar, where elections are to be held later this year, to think twice before they vote for a party, which does not keep its commitment to war veterans”.
When asked why the growing unrest amongst them, Wing Commander (retd) C K Sharma, treasurer of IESM, attributed it to the interaction with the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. During the meeting, the finance minister “asked us to lower our expectations”.
“The government has given a figure of around Rs 8,296 crore which is needed for rolling out OROP, it is not our estimate, so where is the scope for lowering expectations or re-examining this,” he added.
He added that Jaitley assured that there was total support from the party for this scheme, and it would be rolled out, but did not provide any timelines for the same. “We are asking for our due, not begging for a favour. It is worse for the widows of ex-servicemen, who are managing with meagre pensions. In comparison to a government peon’s widow who would be getting around Rs 6,000 as pension, a sepoy’s widow gets around Rs 3,500,” he argues.
Wing Commander Sharma explained that the allocation of funds for OROP would decline after the next four years, as against the argument that the scheme would entail higher expenditure for the government in the future.
Another veteran at the rally said, “The government should remember that the serviceman may not be highly educated, but he is literate and he is definitely not foolish.”
Ex-servicemen insist that the disappointment over the inordinate delay in implementation of OROP is with the government, and even more with the bureaucracy, which is seen as opposing this scheme. “The real opposition and delay in implementation is stemming from the bureaucracy which is unlikely to get any commission in the roll out, so they are misguiding the government also on this,” adds another ex-serviceman.
“We urge our families, friends and supporters to come out and show solidarity with us as we have given all our best years to the country and now we want our due, to be given with dignity. Time for making promises is over and it is time to deliver,” concluded Maj Gen Singh.