Retired military personnel recounted tales of hardship, valour and service to the nation as their relay hunger strike in the national capital to pressure the government to implement the one rank, one pension (OROP) scheme entered its second month on Wednesday.
“During the war in 1971, I was told at 10 pm one night that a bridge within Pakistani territory would have to be blown up by 5am. My men and I crawled through enemy territory with weapons and explosives and blew up the bridge over the Ravi river,” Maj Gen (retired) Mohan Singh told the crowd at the venue of the protest at Jantar Mantar.
“We did what we were ordered to do. I didn’t ask the Prime Minister to wait for the bridge to be blown up. Now, the government should honour our service and sacrifices and implement the one rank, one pension scheme,” he said to loud cheers from the retired ‘faujis’.
Groups of retired personnel from across states such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have been participating in the hunger strike for the past month to push the government to ensure that veterans of the same rank and with the same length of service get the same pension.
Lt Gen (retired) Bhopinder Singh, who served as the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry and the military secretary to Presidents KR Narayanan and APJ Abdul Kalam, said military personnel could not understand why Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not ordering the implementation of the OROP scheme.
“This is a matter that concerns the honour of the soldiers, who are sitting on the road to protest. If the government makes the announcement, they wouldn’t have to protest in this manner. If the Prime Minister orders it, no minister can stop him,” Singh told Hindustan Times.
“My long tenures in government service outside the army makes me believe that the government can easily implement this scheme. The Rs 9,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore needed for OROP is not a very big amount when one considers the sacrifices made by soldiers.”
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.
Other retired officers pointed out that most bureaucrats retire at the age of 60, while soldiers usually retire at the age of 35 to 37 and officers at 54. They said soldiers are retired early to keep the army young and they must be compensated.
The OROP scheme is expected to benefit close to 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.
Groups representing retired personnel were disappointed when the Prime Minister did not make an expected announcement about implementing OROP during a rally in Mathura on May 25 to mark his government’s first year in office.
The government has said it is committed to OROP but has refused to give a timeframe for implementing the scheme. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar recently said the scheme will be implemented once it is cleared by the finance ministry in view of the financial implications.
Maj Gen (retired) Satbir Singh, who heads the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, said the military personnel would continue their protest till the government makes an announcement about OROP.
“This has been our demand for more than 35 years. We will not end our protest,” he told the crowd.