The UPA-2 government may give in to a long-standing demand of soldiers for 'one rank, one pension' (OROP), with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi firmly backing the proposal and raising the hopes of around 3 million defence pensioners.
Gandhi met several ex-servicemen delegations Friday and told them he was sensitive to their demand and would take it up with the government forcefully. HT was first to report that he was pushing hard to get the OROP implemented. It is learnt Gandhi may raise the issue with the PM soon.
"I am on your side. I will do all that I can to see that your demands are met," Gandhi told the veterans.
The OROP will ensure that soldiers of the same rank and the same length of service receive the same pension, irrespective of their retirement date. "It should be effective from 2006, the year the 6th pay panel report was implemented," said 85-year-old Brig SP Sibal (retd), who turned up for the meeting after reading the HT report on Gandhi reaching out to the veterans.
Gandhi's interventions have produced results, be it raising the cap on LPG cylinders from nine to 12 or junking a controversial ordinance shielding convicted lawmakers.
All pre-2006 retirees receive lesser pension than not only their counterparts but also their juniors. A major general who retired in 1995 draws a basic pension of Rs. 30,350, but a colonel who retired after 2006 gets Rs. 34,000.
Successive governments have made assurances to remove disparities, but none have put their money where their mouth is. Implementation of the pension scheme is estimated to cost Rs. 2,000 crore every year.
"It's a step in the right direction, though belated. The PM should make a statement in Parliament on implementing the OROP," said Major General Satbir Singh (retd).
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.
Gandhi seems to have tapped into a potent source of discontent among defence pensioners. The push for the OROP, which will benefit about 600,000 widows, comes at a time when Gandhi has made a strong pitch for women's empowerment.
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.