The hard-fought campaign for one rank-one pension (OROP) appears to be imploding, with a key veteran body on Wednesday pulling out of the umbrella organisation spearheading the movement.
The Indian Ex-servicemen League (IESL) “disassociated” itself with the United Front of Ex-servicemen (UFESM) citing irreconciliable differences in the manner the campaign was being run.
IESL president lieutenant general Balbir Singh (retd) told Hindustan Times that his organisation had withdrawn as the campaign was not a “cohesive” one and appeared to be taking a political colour.
“Ours is an apolitical organisation. There have been attempts to link the protest to the Bihar polls. The OROP campaign also lacks cohesiveness,” he said.
The rift comes at a time when the OROP struggle is at a crucial juncture. The NDA government has accepted the 40-year-old demand to remove disparities in pensions but a few sticking points still need to be ironed out.
Lieutenant general Balbir Singh along with Indian Ex-servicemen Movement chairman Major General Satbir Singh (retd) had represented the veterans during key negotiations with top government officials in the weeks leading up to the historic OROP announcement on September 5.
Major general Satbir Singh, who has become the face of the campaign, said Balbir Singh had not informed him about the IESL’s decision to disassociate itself with the UFESM. “I can comment on this only after I have more details. But it will not affect our protest.”
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar told a packed news conference last week 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.
The veterans are, however, not happy. Their main concerns centre around extending the benefits to premature retirees, annual/biennial revision of pensions as against the five-yearly review granted by the government and mode of re-calculation. Also, there is still no clarity on whether pre-mature retirees will be covered under the scheme.
Another sticking point is the government’s decision to 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.