In a major development that was aimed at breaking an impasse between ex- servicemen and the Government on the implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP), Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on 5 September finally announced the scheme. “The issue of One Rank One Pension has been pending for nearly four decades,” he said during the press conference adding that it was a “matter of deep anguish that various governments have remained ambivalent on the OROP issue.”
Sitting nearly three km away, a congregation of ex-servicemen, who had been waiting for this day since the advent of the protest nearly three months back, held on to their hopes. The long battle finally seemed to be heading to a conclusion; anticipation was at its peak. Though there were reports of mixed responses from the veterans, disappointment followed soon after. According to the ex-servicemen, key demands discussed in the meeting with Parrikar were not addressed. However, the indefinite hunger strike was called off as a ‘mark of respect’ after the tokenist intervention by the government. The common sentiment echoed by the veterans was that of the whole issue being ‘diluted’ by the government from what was discussed in the meetings.
“There is no question of being happy or not happy. It is after 40 years that the demand is being fulfilled. We are thankful to the PM, the Defence Minister, Chief of Army Staff Dalbir Singh Suhag and all those who helped us in this. It is a step in the right direction, however, the issue has not been fully addressed. Therefore, while we have lifted the indefinite hunger strike, we are continuing with the relay hunger strike and there will be a big rally on 12 September. We will continue our struggle, intensify it and spread our word,” says Major General (retd) Satbir Singh, who is spearheading the protest.
What leaves the protesters dissatisfied, among other issues, is the press statement released by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in which the defence minister said, “Personnel who voluntarily retire from service will not be covered under the OROP scheme.” Voluntary Retirement from Service (VRS) is a scheme which is often offered by private companies wherein, a one-time lump sum amount is given to an employee upon retiring voluntarily as a gesture of ‘goodwill’. However, there is nothing such as a VRS in the defence forces. The term, which army servicemen are familiar with is Pre Mature Retirement (PMR) wherein one can take voluntary retirement after a minimum Qualifying Service (QS) of 20 years.
The veterans were thus left seething with anger as confusion regarding the matter spread. They also criticised the government for an utter lack of transparency and attempts at spreading confusion in addressing the issue.
“There is no such thing as VRS in the defence forces. It is for company laws. This is what they have wanted to do from the beginning, delay the issue as much as possible. Initially we were very happy since we felt that we were making progress but now we are not. Neither Parrikar nor anyone from the government has met us after the announcement. There is also no clarity on the implementation yet. This is why we are still continuing with our protest. It is very clear that they have purposely brought these clauses to delay the issue further,” says Wing Commander (retd) MMS Paintal.