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Not Caring Enough For Ex-Servicemen

The Modi government should be under no illusion that the agitation on the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme would ebb away. The agitation has united ex-servicemen across the country, because the issue has been pending for decades despite promises by successive governments. The Modi government is worried on account of the financial implications of the acceptance of the demand, which could be Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore. The government is ready to change the base year of pension implementation and to allow pension equalisation every five years, which will mean lesser financial burden. But the ex-servicemen have rejected both the offers. Unless the protestors budge on their four demands – no dilution in OROP definition approved by Parliament, retrospective date of implementation from April 1, 2014, base year of 2013-14 for calculating pension and a raise every year to match the annual increments – no agreement seems possible.

OROP means uniform pension to all military personnel retiring at the same rank with same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement. For example, if two Majors in the army have put in 25 years of service and one retired in 1984 and other in 2005, both would be entitled to the same pension and all increments in future. However, as opposed to this, armed forces personnel are now entitled to 50 per cent of the last salary earned (with increments suggested by successive pay commissions). The ex-servicemen are justified in demanding OROP as their life is adversely impacted by early retirement and absence of post-retirement employment. However, the government has financial constraints: it cannot go on raising pensions like salaries. It can allow a review when pay commissions are implemented. The frequency of the review is one of the most contentious issues between the ex-servicemen and the government. What will the government do when, after the cut-off point is fixed, more personnel retire at the same rank in the coming months and years? Will the government continue to revise the earlier retirees’ pensions year after year?

The atmosphere built up by the ex-servicemen’s agitation has become charged. The ex-servicemen want Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take action, and he has engaged himself with them through his Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra. The agitating ex-servicemen expect Modi to accept their demands in full as the BJP had supported their demands vigorously during the UPA rule. The BJP lambasted UPA’s callous attitude towards the armed forces. They also upped the ante by linking the OROP issue with nationalism. As a result, several ex-servicemen joined the party on the eve of elections. The party also won the vote of a large number of ex-servicemen. For a year after the BJP-led government came to power, the ex-servicemen waited to get some traction on their demands. They started a peaceful protest once they realized that the government was unwilling to accept their demands. Mistrust had grown in a vote bank the party had built.

The government must decide on what they can afford and what they can pay. Everything should be kept on the table clearly. It is for sure that the government cannot make everyone happy. If the government is buying time, it should realize that it is gaining no-confidence among ex-servicemen. The government should be frank and discuss the modalities it has in mind and come out with a decision. Indecisiveness on the part of the Modi government can prove to be disastrous. Modi must remember India had voted for a decisive mandate and if the government is indecisive that would be the saddest thing. Modi keeps on harping on the indecisiveness of the UPA government and says this legacy of lethargy has been a huge hurdle for him to perform. This is a golden opportunity for the government to be firm and come out with a blueprint. It must realize that silence is being viewed as its indifference to the armed forces that supported it so vocally.

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