Ten former service chiefs have expressed dismay at the government’s inability to settle the issue of one rank one pension (OROP) for military personnel in a letter sent to the Prime Minister, saying the imbroglio could affect the morale of the armed forces.
“We would strongly urge the government to settle this issue expeditiously and in an urgent timeframe. Any further delays, in our considered view, will be at the cost of damaging the pride of the veterans and lowering the morale of the armed forces,” the former service chiefs said in their letter.
The political leadership’s inability to clinch the issue of OROP “leaves us dismayed”, the letter said. “As much as the OROP, the respect and dignity of the soldier is at stake here and let it be known that we have extreme concern for the veterans’ long-pending demands,” it said.
“We would strongly urge the government to settle this issue expeditiously and in an urgent timeframe. Any further delays, in our considered view, will be at the cost of damaging the pride of the veterans and lowering the morale of the armed forces.”
The letter, signed by seven former army chiefs, two former air force chiefs and a former navy chief, became public on Monday even as Col (retired) Pushpender Singh and Major Singh, a retired havildar, began a fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar to pressure the government to implement OROP.
Veterans across the country were angered after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech on Saturday did not outline a timeframe for implementing OROP. Modi said his government has accepted the demand in principle and he is hopeful of a “positive outcome” as talks on the issue are in the final stages.
The former service chiefs said in their letter that they were “deeply perturbed and distressed by the highhanded treatment of our veterans” at Jantar Mantar on August 14.
Two ex-servicemen begin fast unto death to demand ‘OROP'
They were referring to Delhi Police’s efforts to remove protesting veterans from the venue in the heart of Delhi as part of security arrangements for Independence Day. The police allowed the retired personnel to remain at Jantar Mantar only after minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju intervened.
“These veterans have been on a peaceful demonstration at this venue and have been trying to make the government hear their voice since June 12, 2015. We unequivocally condemn the action by the police and urge the government to investigate and take immediate action,” the letter said.
The police action had “seriously impacted the pride and morale of all ranks of the three services and the veterans”, the letter said.
The former service chiefs said they had not approached the Prime Minister earlier because they had full faith in announcements made by the political leadership about OROP. “We were also hopeful that the announcement of the implementation of the OROP would be made to the nation on Independence Day. Regrettably this has not happened,” the letter said.
The letter further said there is only definition of OROP that has been accepted by current and previous parliaments and by the defence minister in the presence of veterans.
This is "uniform pension to be paid to the armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement". An annual review system will also be required for equalising the pension of past and current retirees.
The defence minister, after consultations with the services headquarters, veterans and defence ministry officials, had approved a Rs 8,300 crore model for OROP in February 2014 , the letter said.
The former service chiefs said the “technical difficulties” being cited by the government were “bewildering”. Delays in implementing OROP were being perceived as an effort to change parameters and dilute entitlements, which “will be grossly unjust and unacceptable”.
The letter was signed by generals VN Sharma, Shankar Roy Choudhary, S Padmanabhan, NC Vij, JJ Singh, Deepak Kapoor and Bikram Singh, air chief marshals NC Suri and SP Tyagi and admiral Madhvendera Singh.
The OROP scheme is expected to benefit nearly 3 million defence pensioners and 600,000 widows. Decorated veterans have in the past returned medals and signed petitions in blood to draw the government’s attention to the issue.
All personnel who retired before 2006, the year the 6th pay panel’s report became effective, receive smaller pensions than their counterparts and their 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.