A historic announcement by the government on Saturday accepting the 40-year-old demand for one rank one pension to remove disparities in pensions took the edge off veterans’ resentment, but couldn’t immediately convince them to call off their stir.
Flanked by the three service chiefs, defence minister Manohar Parrikar told a packed news conference that the decision to implement the scheme reflected the government’s commitment to the welfare of veterans, despite the fiscal burden — an annual payout in the range of Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore.
The scheme will be effective from July 1, 2014, with arrears amounting to anywhere between Rs 10,000 crore and Rs 12,000 crore. While widows will get arrears in lump-sum, others will be paid in four half-yearly installments.
Orders for implementation would be out in “15 days to one month”, Parrikar said. New pensions will be fixed with 2013 as the base year.
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Veterans welcomed the decision but said they were not celebrating until a few sticking points were sorted out.
Parrikar said pensions would be re-calculated every five years but soldiers who took “voluntary retirement” would not be entitled to OROP, striking a raw nerve in the ex-servicemen community.
The veterans, who have been holding protests across the country for 83 days now, want the pension to be reworked every two years and the benefits of the scheme extended to premature retirees.
Later in the day, representatives of ex-servicemen met Parrikar in his office and returned “satisfied” with “strong indications” that premature retirees would not be left high and dry.
Group Captain VK Gandhi (retd), general secretary of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, said, “Our mood is cautiously optimistic. We haven’t called off our protest and future course will be dictated by outcomes on pending issues and after we get something in writing.”
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However, Major General (retd) Satbir Singh, who heads the IESM, said: “We only accept one point and that is the implementation of OROP and categorically reject everything else.”
Parrikar said the government would set up a single-member judicial committee to look into various aspects of OROP, including inter-services matters. While it will submit its report in six months, veterans want the government to set a deadline of 30 days. They have also demanded that the panel have five members, including three veterans.
Parrikar said pensions would be calculated by taking the mean of the minimum and maximum pension drawn by similarly-placed veterans in 2013, with those drawing higher sums than the average being protected. The veterans want the government to ensure the formula for reworking pensions offers maximum parity.
The salient features read out by Parrikar were the same as those in the draft circulated on Friday, offering nothing new to the veterans. He also did not take questions at the press conference.
The minister stressed that the government had accepted OROP in "true spirit without being constrained by” inaccurate estimates made by the UPA regime (Rs 500 crore) and the Koshiyari panel (Rs 235 crore) for implementing the scheme.
The scheme, expected to benefit three million pensioners, will guarantee equal pension to military personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of the date of retirement.