Hundreds of veterans returned medals on Tuesday to protest against their key demands not being met in a government formula to equalise their pension payouts, deepening a crisis that has virtually pitted millions of ex-servicemen against the Centre.
Retired military personnel relinquished their awards in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and other parts of the country, terming last week’s announcement by the Centre on the one-rank-one-pension (OROP) scheme “diluted” and said they would observe a “black Diwali” to protest the government “reneging” on its assurances.
“The ex-servicemen deposited their medals with the DC (deputy commissioner of southwest Delhi’s Kapashera) on the road to the Delhi international airport so the world can see how shabbily the government treats its soldiers,” said Group Captain VK Gandhi (retd), general secretary of the Indian Ex-servicemen Movement, accusing the government of playing a divide-and-rule game.
“This Diwali will be a black one for us. We will mark it amid darkness at the India Gate where ex-servicemen will gather with their families.”
The veterans are particularly upset about the scheme not being extended to future premature retirees and the proposal to recalculate pensions every five years instead of annually.
According to the notification, pensions will be fixed with 2013 as the base year and the plan will be implemented from July 1, 2014.
The scheme is aimed at guaranteeing equal pension to military personnel retiring at the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of the date of retirement.
While the veterans stepped up their movement, the government appeared in no mood to yield any more ground. Describing the protesters as “misguided”, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said in Goa their behaviour was “unlike that of a soldier”. Parrikar had said on Monday it was not possible to meet all the demands made by the ex-servicemen and the core issue had been resolved.
“This government and I have worked very hard to fulfil the promise of OROP which no other government fulfilled over the past 40 years...almost 95 % of the veterans’ community is satisfied,” he said.
Several veterans have been holding a sit-in at Jantar Mantar for over five months in support of their decades-old demand. The retired soldiers say the formula worked out by the Centre amounts to one rank, five pensions.
The government has decided to appoint a judicial committee to look into anomalies, if any, arising out of the implementation of the scheme.
According to the Centre’s calculations, the plan will require an annual payout of Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore. It will be effective from July 1, 2014, with arrears amounting to anywhere between Rs 10,000 crore and Rs 12,000 crore.