Thousands of retired military personnel on Sunday piled on pressure on the NDA government to implement the “one rank one pension” (OROP) scheme, holding protests in Delhi and cities across the country and saying the campaign will be intensified with the launch of an indefinite hunger strike.
In Delhi, former armed forces personnel gathered at Jantar Mantar for the protest. A series of ‘mahasangram’ rallies also were organised in cities around the country.
Officials of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM), which is spearheading the protests, said an indefinite relay hunger strike will be started from 9am on Monday. Batches of 15 people will join the relay hunger strike, which will continue till the government announces a date for implementing OROP.
The IESM decided to launch the protests after a meeting with defence minister Manohar Parrikar to discuss the OROP issue ended inconclusively.
Maj Gen (retired) Satbir Singh, vice-chairman of the IESM, told the media: “The protest will continue till OROP is implemented. There will be rallies across the country. After the rally, there will be an indefinite hunger strike.”
Singh said the former military personnel intended to hand over their medals to the President, who is also the supreme commander of the armed forces, as a mark of protest.
The former military personnel are expected to meet President Pranab Mukherjee later in the day.
The NDA government has said several times it is committed to the OROP scheme but Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Parrikar have not set a timeframe for rolling it out.
"Whenever there has been any requirement for national security, for earthquake, for floods or in case of a disaster, the army has always been there first to take suitable action. But when it comes to the finances, giving perks, giving benefits, the Indian Army becomes the last organization in this country," Maj Gen (retd) SR Sinho told reporters.
"This system of OROP has been pending for many years. Whenever the elections come, lots of promises are made by various parties that it will be executed soon. 8,000 crores is not a very big amount for a country like India, which has a huge army budget," he added.
Modi brought up the issue during his last monthly radio address and sought more time from the retired personnel to implement the scheme. He has also said his government is trying to frame a definition of OROP that is acceptable to all stakeholders.
The former military personnel have written a letter to the Prime Minister, seeking the implementation of OROP as soon as possible.
The OROP scheme is aimed at ensuring that all retired personnel, who have the same rank and the length of service, receive the same amount of pension, irrespective of their date of retirement. Under the existing policy, military personnel who retired before 2006 receive less pension than those who retired later.
The OROP scheme has been a long-standing demand of nearly three million retired military personnel. More than 600,000 war widows are also expected to benefit from the scheme.
Before last year’s general election, the Congress-led UPA government allocated Rs 500 crore for the OROP scheme. Following its electoral victory, the BJP-led NDA government increased the allocation to Rs 1,000 crore.
But experts have said the actual requirement for immediately implementing the scheme could be more than Rs 8,000 crore.