THE SUNDAY winter sun shines down on a carton full of gallantry medals at a protest site in Delhi. The medals, however, seem to have lost their gleam. Colonel (retired) A Sridharan flew in from Coimbatore to join over 5,000 military veterans who had gathered to return the medal they won to President Pratibha Patil. These veterans have been demanding the implementation of ‘one rank, one pension’ (OROP) — equal pension for those with equal service and the same rank, irrespective of the year of retirement.
Colonel Sridharan says he’s unable to comprehend the reason for the government’s apathy. “We have spent our lives looking after the frontiers of the country and this is what we get in return? Does the government suffer from dementia or selective amnesia?” asks the 60-year-old, who returned his Vashist Seva Medal.
As of now, retired officers (with the same rank and equal number of years in service) receive different amounts as pension. The Central Pay Commissions increases the pay of the armed forces every 10 years. “This has widened the gap between the pensions received by those who retired before the implementation of the respective commissions,” explains Maj Gen (Retd) Satbir Singh, vice-chairperson, Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM). The government rejected the OROP demand in the Sixth Pay Commission, citing its financial implications. The veterans then took their battle to the streets. “The army is already facing a severe officer crunch. Can you imagine what will happen to the morale of those serving officers when they see their fathers and grandfathers battling it out on the street?” asks Maj Gen (Retd) Singh who is the sixth-generation of his family in the army. Since February 8, ex-servicemen from all over the country have returned more than 5,000 medals to the President.
According to IESM, the government has created four categories within a rank after the Sixth Pay Commission. “A hawaldar who retired before 1996 draws lesser pension than a sepoy who retired after 2006. Similarly, a Lt General who retired before 1996 draws less pension than a Brigadier,” explains Major General (retired) PK Renjen. At present the OROP is given only to Member of Parliaments, service chiefs, army commanders and Secretaries to the government. “While government servants retire at the age of 60, our soldiers who are recruited at the age of 19 begin retiring from the age of 35 in order to keep the armed forces young. Isn’t it the duty of the government to compensate them?,” asks Maj Gen (Retd) Renjen.
However, for now there is no sign of unanimity between the ex-serviceman and the government. Responding to a query in Parliament, Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju said that the OROP cannot be implemented because of “administrative, financial and legal reasons”. Till it is, the veterans will continue a fight they never imagined they would need to — for their rights.