Putting an end to months of speculation, the government on Saturday announced it will be implementing ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP) for the armed forces.
The veterans, who have been agitating for OROP, initially rejected the government’s scheme which excluded those taking premature retirement (PMR), but were later assured by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the clause on voluntary retirement will be removed.
Even as ex-servicemen representative Maj. Gen. Satbir Singh (retd), following a meeting with Parrikar, said he was “satisfied” soon after reaching the agitation site at Jantar Mantar, it was announced that the the protest will continue.
Wing Commander M.M.S. Paintal (retd) told IANS that the hunger strike will continue till they get a written assurance.
“We will end the indefinite hunger strike when we get a written assurance that those taking premature retirement are not excluded. The agitation will, however, continue after that as well,” Paintal told IANS.
What became the major sticking point on Saturday was that the minister had said “personnel who voluntarily retire will not be covered under the OROP scheme”.
Maj. Gen. Singh told reporters after his meeting: “The defence minister verbally confirmed there is no VRS in armed forces, there is just premature retirement. He will talk with the prime minister and let us know in a few days.”
Asked if they were satisfied, he said: “After this statement, yes, we are satisfied.”
He, however, said it was not an end.
“There are other issues, which are yet to be done but the major issue was PMR which was not supposed to be a part of the note. How it came we do not know.”
Soon after returning to Jantar Mantar, he announced the indefinite fast will end with a written assurance on not excluding PMR, but the agitation will continue.
“We do not accept the revision in five years as offered by the government. This will kill the definition of the OROP,” he said.
Regarding the formation of a committee, the veteran said the protesters want the government to form a committee which would directly be under the defence minister.
“The committee must consist of five members — three retired veterans, one serving member of the forces and one any designated by the government.”
He also said the committee must submit its report within a month.
Meanwhile, political parties began a blame game on Saturday soon after the government announced implementation of OROP. The ruling BJP called it a “historic decision” while the Congress termed it “totally disappointing”.
“The government has substantially diluted the provisions of the OROP announced by the UPA,” Congress leader and former defence minister A.K. Antony told the media here.
The BJP refuted the Congress accusation.
“It is the Congress’s passion to criticise the government for everything, forgetting that they have not been able to fulfill this responsibility while in power,” union minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said here.
The defence minister, making the much awaited announcement at a press conference called at short notice, said: “Despite the huge fiscal burden, given its commitment to the welfare of ex-servicemen, the Government has taken a decision to implement the OROP.”
Parrikar said an order implementing the scheme was likely to come in a fortnight to a month.
The estimated cost to the exchequer for the scheme will be Rs.8,000-10,000 crore, and the arrears will amount to around Rs.12,000 crore.
The scheme announced by the government will take 2013 as the base year to calculate pensions and date of implementation will be July 1, 2014.
The period for review is five years, something that has been a major sticking point.
The arrears are to be paid in four instalments, at a gap of every six months.
To war widows, the arrears will be given in one instalment.
Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh said veterans above 60 years of age will also get arrears in one go.
Announcing the scheme, Parrikar said the government was dedicated to the scheme which has been pending for “40 years”.
Currently the pension bill of the defence ministry stands at Rs. 54,000 crore.