President Pranab Mukherjee may intervene in the logjam over ex-servicemen’s demand for a one-rank, one-pension (OROP) scheme, in what can be dubbed an extraordinary move.
The President, supreme commander of the armed forces, is watching the situation closely and is likely to seek a briefing from the government on how it plans to resolve the simmering row, sources said.
It is not often that the President intervenes in matters related to military personnel. "In this case, the President has received several petitions from ex-servicemen. Last month, four former service chiefs had written to the President on the OROP issue, seeking his intervention," a source said.
The government had sent a note to the President’s office this week, updating him on the negotiations between PMO officials and ex-servicemen. Army chief General Dalbir Singh is facilitating the talks to help both sides iron out their differences.
Given Mukherjee’s reputation for sticking to rules, he may not even suggest ways to resolve the pending issue that has seen several war veterans protesting at Jantar Mantar for the past 80 days. "He may only ask the government to resolve the issue in a manner favourable to both sides, at the earliest," a source said.
The OROP deadlock showed no signs of ending on Thursday as retired soldiers accused the government of 'constantly shifting the goalpost' and not putting any definite proposal on the table. Representatives of ex-servicemen met Gen Singh to update him as the stir entered its 81st day.
"Where do we go for negotiations? People from the government offer one thing and the next day another person comes up with a different statement. They are constantly shifting the goalpost. There is no clear signal of intent from the government," alleged Col (retd) Anil Kaul, media adviser to the United Front of Ex-Servicemen.
The former soldiers have made it clear that they will not accept any unilateral announcement by the government if it tinkers with the 'accepted' definition of OROP. A major sticking point is whether pensions will be hiked annually as demanded by the war veterans or after a gap of five years as suggested by the government.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has ruled out the possibility of annual revision of pensions. Major-General (retd) Satbir Singh, who heads the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, said they could consider a biennial hike if the government agrees to implement OROP right away. A section of ex-servicemen said pension parity will cost the government about Rs 33 crore a year.
In August, as many as 10 former chiefs warned the government against any further delay in implementing OROP, saying it would erode the military’s morale and pride. The scheme, expected to benefit three million pensioners from the armed forces, will guarantee equal pension to military personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service, regardless of their date of retirement.