Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday did not commit a specific timeline for implementation of ‘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 69 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.
Not far from Red Fort, where he addressed the nation, ex-servicemen sitting on 62nd day of relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar, watched Modi’s speech keenly on a large LCD screen but switched it off the moment his brief OROP mention ended.
Terming the soldiers as a strength, treasure and energy of the country, Modi accepted that despite his coming to power, the solution for the long-delayed OROP issue has not been found yet.
Pointing out that many governments have come and gone for years and the OROP issue came before each one of them, Modi said the OROP has been in-principle accepted by his government but talk are still on with various stakeholders.
EXPLAINED: What is One Rank One Pension?
“Every government has given small promises but the issue has not been resolved. Even after I came, I have not been able to do it till now. Today, I am assuring my soldiers once again... in-principle OROP has been accepted by us but talks with stakeholders are on,” he said in his Independence Day address.
Modi said that the issue has reached the last stages and the aim is complete development of country and justice to all.
“A solution has to be found for an issue which has been lingering for 20-25 years. I expect good news seeing the way the talks are going on. And that is why I again promise that in-principle, this government has accepted OROP,” he said.
The PM said that talks are being held with the stakeholders to work out the nitty-gritty and modalities. “We have to move forward by talking,” he said.
However, the protesting ex-servicemen reacted sharply and “rejected” Modi’s Independence Day speech.
“We are totally disappointed. We expected the PM to at least announce a time-frame or a date. But all we got was reiteration of in-principle approval of OROP which was done by the government when it came to power,” Maj Gen Satbir Singh (retd), chairman of Indian Ex-Servicemen movement said.
He said that the ex-servicemen have decided to intensify their stir from Sunday in a peaceful manner. “I am sorry, principle was accepted 17 months ago and he has also accepted it. I want to ask the PM, what is holding the implementation of OROP,” questioned Maj Gen Satbir.
The veterans want pensions benchmarked at the 2014 rates and reject the government offer of 2011 rates. “I am ashamed of the PM. We want the OROP without any dilution. What talks, when and how long. Where is Gen VK Singh, where is Col Rathore? Why haven’t they resigned?” said DeepaNeb, daughter and wife of a retired defence personnel.
Another veteran, who identified himself as Col Thakral (retd) said, “We go to war just on the order of the PM. I am retired but if Modi as PM orders me to stand up and go to war, I will not hesitate. He knows I can be trusted but I am not sure about him now.”
Close to 22 lakh ex-servicemen and over six lakh war widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme, which envisages a uniform pension for the defence personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement.
Currently, the pension for retired personnel is based on the Pay Commission recommendations of the time when he or she retired.
So, a Major General who retired in 1996 draws a lower pension than a Lieutenant Colonel who retired after 1996.
“Time and again, Modi has been saying Team India, actually Team India today has failed the real Team India. Are we not part of Team India,” a retired Brigadier asked.
Retired Wing Commander K S Parihar said, “If it was a matter of three to four years... it’s understood that it takes time. But does it take 43 years to work it out? The promises are hollow”.
Meanwhile, the United Front of Ex-Servicemen, in a statement issued on Saturday, said that the community of veterans has been “disappointed” with both the highhanded action of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Delhi Police on Friday, and the much awaited and expected announcement of the PM with regard to the OROP on the occasion of the 69th Independence day.
The Front has also decided to continue with the relay hunger strike, besides sporting black ribbon on all dresses, and ‘gherao’ of the lawmakers as part of its protest over non-implementation of OROP.
“UFESM firstly condemns yesterday’s attempt of eviction and high handedness by the NDMC staff and Delhi police personnel and demands an unqualified apology from all those in the chain of command, to all ESM for their act of commission against peaceful, disciplined and aged ESM yesterday at Jantar Mantar.
“Sadly neither the Supreme Commander nor the PM made a reference to such an unfortunate incident with those who have assured the freedom of our motherland for the last 69 years in their respective speeches to the nation both yesterday and today,” the statement said.
UFESM hopes they will take notice of the same, it said. On the OROP, the Front said that efforts are on to find a resolution and completion in the “very near” future as per the definition of OROP without any dilution. “However, as per the decision taken at the meeting today, protest marches will be undertaken by ESM in every city and district of the country,” the Front said.
Also, all veterans will sport black ribbon on all dresses and their vehicles will fly black flags, among other protest measures, it said.
Image: Ex-servicemen continue their protest demanding for OROP at Jantar Mantar on Saturday. Photograph: PTI