In 2011, the Koshyari committee — the parliamentary committee on petitions on grant of OROP — named after its chairman Bhagat Singh Koshyari, stated in its report that, “there is merit in the demand for One Rank One Pension by Armed Forces Personnel” and thus strongly recommended that the government should implement OROP at the earliest. The committee defined One Rank One Pension scheme as following, “One Rank One Pension implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces Personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”
The government has been accused by ex-servicemen of trying to confuse the issue to further delay its implementation. The government has been dragging its feet on the issue by saying that there are too many definitions on the ground for OROP.
The delay in the implementation of the OROP has primarily been blamed on the apathy and vested interests of the lower level staff and bureaucrats in the ministry. Even the Koshyari Committee criticized the same.
The civilian bureaucracy in the defence ministry, who are included in the defence pension budget as ‘defence civilians’ ( 54,500 crores for FY 2015) retire at 60. They are mostly based permanently in Delhi and are not covered by the OROP. It must also be noted that the average age of retirement of defence personnel lies between 35 and 37 years of age as opposed to their counterparts in other organisations.
“OROP is a legitimate requirement as 80 percent of personnel retire between 35 and 37 years of age. The raksha mantri (Defence Minister) cleared the file in March 2015. It is the bureaucracy of finance ministry that has been frequently raising new queries. The PM and the FM should overrule the bureaucrats,” says defence and strategic analyst Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) .
The proposed cost of the OROP after various revisions came down to a sum of Rs 8,300 crore, which was approved by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and was forwarded to the Ministry of Finance on 17 March 2015.
“After giving the letter to the defence minister and calculating everything, the figure that came out was Rs 8,300 crore. This includes the arrears that we are supposed to get from 2014. When this went to the finance ministry and we spoke about the budget, they had a few queries and we answered all their questions. After everything they asked us to decrease/reduce our budget. We told them OROP is the only way forward. If you ask us to compromise then it will defeat the entire purpose of the scheme,” says Lt (retd) Kameshwar Pandey.
Spearheading the protest is the vice chairman of Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, Major General (Retd) Satbir Singh. “The new government had told us that the OROP was a priority action but it has not been implemented despite assurances. So we went to the government requesting for a meeting. The raksha mantri (Defence Minister) told us that he has done his job and gave the file on 17 March to the PM, so I do not understand the delay. Finally after that we went on strike, we are on it for 64 days. Initially, we were on a relay hunger strike but now we have intensified it,” Singh tells Tehelka.
The ex-servicemen who have been protesting at Jantar Mantar also expressed their plans on taking the movement to a national level. Taking the agitation to Bihar and addressing ex-servicemen in the state, where Assembly election will be taking place soon, was also on the agenda.
“We are not making this a political issue, there are similar protests for OROP going on in various parts of the country, we do plan to address our fellow servicemen in Bihar and take the movement forward. We are not targeting the Bihar polls alone but all elections. Our aim is to educate people. You should not give false assurance to people,” Singh tells Tehelka.The implementation of the OROP would encourage other services also to put in similar demands. This has been the prevailing argument against the implementation of the scheme. “We are not against any other organisation who might demand the same. We have been fighting this battle for nearly a decade and we have taken all the legal steps before it was passed in the parliament. They are most welcome to do so too,” says Wing Commander CK Sharma (retd) .
For the military veterans, more than being an issue of ‘respect’, the OROP issue is also about rectifying a monumental mistake committed by the Indira Gandhi- led Congress government in 1973 which terminated the scheme under the third Pay Commission.
After the Koshyari committee report in 2011, the issue became a political tool in the run up to the 2014 General Election. While the UPA earmarked a sum of around Rs 500 crore for the implementation, the NDA raised the stake by pitching the amount to Rs 1000 crore. The OROP which also found its way into the election manifesto of the BJP government hence became a political tool to garner the support of the veterans.
Due to the inaction of the current government and the callousness with which the issue has been handled, there is a risk of politicising an otherwise apolitical organisation like the Armed Forces. “Yes. The whole issue has been handled badly and in a callous manner,” says Brigadier Kanwal (retd).
The government cannot afford to make further delays under the garb of exercising fiscal prudence as the protesting veterans have ensured that they will not relent. A solution must be found at the earliest.
A week ago, ten former service chiefs had written to the Prime Minister requesting a resolution of the OROP issue. Nripendra Misra, principal secretary at the PMO, had also met two ex-servicemen representatives and appealed not to intensify the agitation. However, with military veterans going on an indefinite hunger strike and more supporters joining the protest each day followed by a candle light march to India Gate, the protest seems to be gaining momentum day by day.