Frustrated with the government's cold response to their longstanding demand for `one rank one pension’ (OROP), veteran soldiers are shifting into overdrive.
After over 200 war veterans, including decorated generals, returned their medals to the President on February 8 to draw attention to their demand, hundreds more will give up these symbols of honour on February 21 at Jantar Mantar. The disillusioned soldiers are also preparing to surrender the monetary benefits that accompany military decorations.
The government’s monthly allowance for Param Vir Chakra, Ashok Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra, Kirti Chakra, Vir Chakra and Shaurya Chakra awardees stands at Rs 3,000, Rs 2,800, Rs 2,400, Rs 2,100, Rs 1,700 and Rs 1,500. Veterans who have returned medals include Vir Chakra and Shaurya Chakra awardees.
Havildar Nihal Singh returned his Vir Chakra awarded for gallantry in the 1962 India-China war at an ex-servicemen rally organised at Narnaul in Haryana on Tuesday. Earlier, Colonel Kanwar Bhardwaj had returned the Shaurya Chakra awarded to his son Captain Umang Bhardwaj, who was killed in a terrorist encounter in the Valley in 2002. Bhardwaj also returned his Sena Medal awarded for gallantry in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
Major General Satbir Singh (retd), vice chairman, Indian Ex-servicemen Movement (IESM), said, “War veterans have been given a raw deal by the government. Hundreds of ex-servicemen have pledged to return their medals in Delhi on February 21.” Singh has also returned his Sena Medal.
Over 20 lakh armed forces pensioners argue that defence personnel of same rank and same length of service must draw same pension, irrespective of the date of retirement. Various ex-servicemen organisations have criticised the Sixth Pay Commission for creating “four classes within a class” --- pre 1996, post 1996 to December 2005, post January 2006 to September 2008 and post October 2008. Hundreds of veterans have been on a relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar since December 16, celebrated as Vijay Diwas to mark India’s victory in the 1971 war.
All pre 2006 pensioners receive lesser pension than not only their compatriots in service but also their juniors. A havildar who retired before 1996 draws less pension than a sepoy who retired after 2006. Similarly, a lieutenant general draws less pension than a lieutenant colonel. The veterans are willing to reclaim their medals if their OROP demand is accepted. The government has, however, said that the demand was unacceptable as it had huge administrative, financial and legal ramifications.