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OROP suicide: Jaitley says parties should show sensitivity, not use it for political gain

New Delhi: Slamming the Congress for playing politics over an ex-soldier’s suicide, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday blamed administrative lapse on the part of bank for not remitting the entitled pension after he was granted OROP. On Thursday, Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh branding the deceased as a Congress worker, he said all leaders must be “sensitive” to the suicide.

Taking Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi head-on, he said no one should try to change a personal tragedy into political gain, especially by a party whose fortune is already sinking. The UPA government, he said, had not taken any meaningful step towards implementing one-rank-one-pension (OROP) for defence personnel in its 10 years of rule as was evident from a meagre Rs 500 crore allocation it made for the purpose. The government sympathises with the defence personnel who committed suicide, but there was not a lapse that OROP was not granted to him, he clarified.

“It obviously seems to be an administrative lapse. It is not a lapse where the OROP was not granted. It was not a lapse that there was some exception made in his favour. Obviously, communication with the bank, there seems to be some gap in that and therefore, he was given pension for one part of the service and not for other part of the service which he was legitimately entitled to,” Jaitley told reporters here.

Asked about comments by VK Singh, he said, “Everybody has to be sensitive… we must appreciate the sensitivity of the person who under stress has committed suicide. I do sympathise with him and all our comments have to be sensitive on this issue.”

Critical of Gandhi for playing politics over the suicide, he said, “It is equally important that nobody tries to convert a personal tragedy of an individual into a political gain for a party whose fortunes are otherwise sinking.” He said further: “It doesn’t behove senior national leaders to exploit a tragedy of this kind, particularly in intensive care units of the hospitals. A more responsible behaviour is expected of them.”

The government, he said, fully sympathises with the defence personnel and his family who committed suicide. For 10 years, OROP was not implemented by the Congress, Jaitley said. “So the sympathy that has arisen today is politically motivated and the NDA is the first government which has not only accepted OROP demand, but implemented it,” he said.

Taking his point forward, the finance minister said Rs 1,000 crore has been budgeted for pension under OROP. He gave an assurance that the payments are already reaching the defence personnel. “It is a very sensitive case because the government has allocated all the money. Now obviously, (as for) the communication at the bank level, there seems to have been some problem in calculating his entire service, which was divided into two parts. This was a procedural problem which could have been resolved at the level of the bank or the department dealing with it,” Jaitley said.

The finance minister made a reference to efforts to create “meaningless conflict” over OROP applicable on defence services. “This OROP has remained a demand of retired defence personnel for decades. And during 10 years of the UPA government from 2004 to 2014, there was this demand but it has not taken any meaningful step during these years,” he said.

It was only during the Lok Sabha elections in April that they said a committee will be set up to work out the functional modalities of OROP, Jaitley added. “If in April 2014, you are setting up a committee, that shows it’s only for electoral benefits,” he said further. He questioned the seriousness of the leaders of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, wondering why they did not give even Re 1 for OROP for these 10 years. He spoke of the NDA starting the discussions once it came to power. A Parliamentary Committee report, he said, had assessed around Rs 1,200 crore to be the cost to the exchequer, but on further examination, it turned out to be a few more thousand crores.

“We had worked out a few options and at the end, the government accepted the demand of OROP and decided that the fitment of the pension amount will be reviewed after every five years (as against) 10 years in case of government employees,” he disclosed.

Referring to challenges in implementation of OROP in the last few moths, he said the pension is being transferred through State Bank of India and each retired defence personnel is getting pension based on this revised formulation. The Justice Reddy Committee was set up to resolve issues faced by some people, Jaitley said, adding that the panel gave the report last week.

The government is examining it, and discrepancies will be resolved in the next two months, the finance minister promised. According to Jaitley, the issues arose because there was change in address, some were not traceable or some have calculation error. He acknowledged calculation errors at the end of the bank in some cases. “When you have to pay in lakhs, it is natural that you will have such errors. Hence, a machinery is there to resolve this problem,” he said, adding that the Congress leaders did not show any sympathy when they were in power.