New Delhi: Ex-servicemen today took their 76-day-old agitation a notch higher seeking the intervention of President Pranab Mukherjee to resolve the vexed issue of ‘One Rank One Pension’, stating that if any “damage or mishap happens” to those on hunger strike he and the government will be “solely responsible”. In a letter to the President, who is also the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, United Front of Ex-servicemen (UFESM) said a soldier is supposed to kill enemy before laying down his life for country, “But under your rule, a soldier’s life is at stake and is being wasted as he is being deprived of his legitimate dues”.
UFESM, an umbrella organisation of agitating veterans, noted that as many as four former soldiers, who are on fast-unto-death, have been hospitalised and that health of another ex-serviceman Havildar Major Singh, who was on an indefinite fast since August 16, was fast deteriorating. “Panel of Doctors has declared that his medical condition has deteriorated to dangerous level and he needs to be hospitalised immediately to save his life,” the letter, a copy of which has also been sent to PMO, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and BJP President Amit Shah, said.
Havildar Major has refused to be evacuated to the hospital and “he is steadfast” in his resolve that he will not take any medical treatment till OROP is implemented as per the approved definition, it said. However, Havildar Major has been sent to the hospital for detailed check-ups.
“Your Excellency and the Government of India will be solely responsible if any damage/mishap happens to Havildar Major Singh or any other ex-servicemen because of hunger strike,” it said. The letter requested Mukherjee to instruct the government to implement OROP as per the Ministry of Defence letter dated February 26, 2014.
The veterans said that there are some issues where financial cost cannot be the sole determinant factor and that the pensions of defence veterans is one of these. “OROP stands approved both by the UPA as well as the present NDA government. However, its implementation has not been carried out so far for the reason best known to your government,” the letter said.
Meanwhile, another veteran Havildar Abhilash Singh, who was on a relay hunger strike, was admitted to hospital after his health deteriorated. It added that during the veterans’ meeting with Defence Minister, they had been informed that the proposal for implementation of OROP costing Rs 8,298.48 crore had been approved by him and forwarded to the Ministry of Finance on March 17, 2015.
“It is here, where OROP file seems to have been stuck,” the letter said. The OROP has been stuck for a while despite hectic back channel talks between the government and veterans. The government had initially wanted base year being 2011 but then relented to stick to the veterans’ demand of 2013-14 as per vote on account and finance bill 2014. But they wanted the pay out date be pushed forward from April 1, 2014 to April 1, 2015, a proposal rejected by the veterans.
In subsequent talks, the government pushed the payout date from April 1, 2014 to September 1, 2014. However, there would be a provision of review of pensions once every five years against the veterans’ proposal of once a year or once at least every two years.
“The UFESM retracted its offer of acceptance of payment from June 1, 2014 and rejected this proposal too. The underlying reason being the review of pension yearly or once in two years is the heart and soul of the OROP proposal. As of today all escalation points have come into immediate effect,” Col Anil Kaul (Retd), media Advisor to United Front of Ex-Servicemen, said.
Yesterday the government had said “some more time” will be required to roll out OROP as “small gaps are being filled”. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said, “In principle, the Prime Minister on August 15 (Independence Day speech) has given an approval. Now, PMO is directly involved…then by saying that do it in these many days will not help. All efforts are being made to solve the issue.”
Close to 22 lakh retired servicemen and over six lakh war widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme, which envisages a uniform pension for the defence personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Currently, the pension for retired personnel is based on the Pay Commission recommendations of the time when he or she retired. So, a Major General who retired in 1996 draws less pension than a Lt Colonel who retired after 1996.