Around 3 million defence pensioners may finally see their long-standing demand of ‘one rank, one pension (OROP) fulfilled with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi reportedly backing the proposal.
Gandhi will meet a delegation of ex-servicemen (ESM) on Friday to discuss the OROP issue, which could boost the Congress’ fortunes in an election year.
"He is taking personal interest in the OROP issue and there could be some forward movement,” a source said. The Congress vice-president will also address an ESM rally in Uttarakhand on February 22.
The OROP will ensure that retired soldiers of the same rank and the same length of service receive the same pension, irrespective of their date of retirement. The scheme is estimated to cost Rs. 2,000 crore annually.
Currently, all pre-2006 (the year the 6th pay panel report became effective) pensioners receive lesser pension than not only their counterparts but also their juniors. For instance, a major general who retired in 1995 draws a basic pension of Rs. 30,350 but an officer retiring in the same rank after 2006 gets Rs. 38,500. Similarly, a colonel who retired in 2003 gets Rs. 26,150, compared to Rs. 34,000 drawn by a colonel who retired this year.
Gandhi’s now-famous interventions are seen to produce results, be it raising the cap on LPG cylinders from nine to 12 or junking a controversial ordinance shielding convicted lawmakers.
The push for OROP, which will benefit about 600,000 widows, comes at a time when Gandhi has made a strong pitch for women’s empowerment.
He also seems to have tapped into a potent source of discontent among defence pensioners.
“My pension is lesser than a colonel’s. It is humiliating. The ESM vote will go to the party that implements the OROP,” said Major General Satbir Singh (retd), who heads an ESM outfit. ESM groups claim they can influence at least three crore votes.
Decorated veterans have in the past returned their medals, gone on hunger strikes and signed petitions in blood to draw the government’s attention to the OROP issue.
The government had in 2009 declared that it had earmarked Rs. 2,200 crore annually to improve the pension of jawans, a step it described as “partial implementation” of the OROP that had benefitted 1.2 million pensioners.