The government virtually rejected on Monday a key demand of ex-servicemen asking for parity in pensions that has deadlocked negotiations as hopes faded of a quick resolution to end a relay hunger strike by former soldiers that has embarrassed the Centre.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley said the one-rank-one-pension (OROP) scheme couldn’t hike an ex-soldier’s dues annually – as demanded by former military personnel – as it wasn’t done anywhere in the world and would create a liability for future generations.
"I have my own formula on what OROP means. Somebody else may have their own formula on OROP but it has to be within a reasonable and rational criteria. You can't have an OROP where pensions are revised every month or every year," he said.
The OROP crisis has virtually pitted hundreds of ex-servicemen against the government, who they say has forgotten its poll promise of implementing the long-standing appeal, which is expected to benefit over three million defence pensioners and half a million widows.
Veterans have been demonstrating at Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi for 78 days, refusing to back down from their principal demand of hiking pensions annually that caused talks to collapse last week. The Centre has suggested a five-year gap between pension raises and has repeatedly stated it was committed to OROP.
"I have been very vigilant about fiscal prudence. We accept the principle (of OROP) but let us not create incidence which are going to set (precedent for) other segments of the society to also start demanding (the same)," Jaitley told the television channel ET Now.
Pressure has piled on the BJP in recent weeks with several ex-servicemen collapsing days into their hunger strike for a scheme that would guarantee equal pension to military personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service, regardless of their date of retirement.
Jaitley said the Indian political thought process would not make "unreasonable concessions" merely on emotions. "Can the BSF do it? Can the CRPF do it? Obviously the thinking India will say it's not the right step to take. You can't create a liability that the future generations will have to pay. Therefore on rational criteria OROP, we should certainly be able to implement," he said.
The issue leapt back into the national spotlight after police forcibly removed ex-soldiers from Jantar Mantar before Independence Day in a move that earned widespread condemnation, prompting the prime minister’s office and army chief Dalbir Singh to get involved.
Jaitley said the "only difficulty" was the "arithmetical translation" but added that the government would safeguard the interest of soldiers who retire at 35 or 38 years of age “Some higher pension on a special formulation is understandable but then it can't be revised every year," he said.
Ex-servicemen have demanded OROP for several years now and decorated soldiers have returned medals in the past, pointing out the glaring imbalance in pensions. Several former army generals have also advised the government that any delay in rolling out OROP would affect the military’s morale.
All personnel who retired before 2006 -- the year the sixth pay commission’s report became effective --receive lower pensions than their counterparts and juniors. A major general who retired in 1995, for instance, draws a basic pension of Rs 30,350 but an officer retiring in the same rank after 2006 gets Rs 38,500.