As the Kargil Vijay Diwas, celebrated on July 26 to commemorate the victory in Kargil war, is approaching, the ex-servicemen who are “deeply hurt” by the delay in the implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP) policy in spite of the election promises made by BJP which is in power now are asking if the government really cares about its war heroes, veterans and widows of the warriors.
Pune being one of the important centres of defence-related activities because of presence of several institutions, it has also been battle ground for the OROP from the beginning. Two war veterans, Wing Commander S D Karnik (retired) and Wing Commander K V Bopardikar (retired), stepped up the agitation for OROP against the government by refusing to be felicitated by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at a function in Pune in the last week of May this year.
The incident sparked the nationwide debate about the OROP.
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Wing Commander Karnik (80), a war hero of 1971 war and a Vir Chakra recipient, says, “Immediately after I declared my refusal to accept the felicitation, I got call a from the Central government, asking me to rethink about my stand and saying that refusing the honour would be an insult. This shows that the government is concerned about its image but not about the soldiers who fought for the country, protected the citizens and ensured safety during the natural calamities.”
As per the definition accepted by Parliament from the report of Koshiyari Committee, OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. And any future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.
Commander Ravindra Pathak (retired) of the Pension Cell of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement says, “People say we are fighting for money. But this battle is for asserting our rights. In the civil-military balance, which is essential to India’s defence philosophy, political control of the defence forces has actually turned into the bureaucratic control. It is the bureaucracy which has become the biggest obstacle to OROP. Several other countries including some of our enemies have implemented the policy of OROP for their defence forces.”
Commander Pathak added, “The current defence pension budget is around Rs 54,500 crore and as per figure given by the current defence minister, the OROP would cause an additional expenditure of over Rs 8,200 crore. Do we need to tell our citizens where this figure stands as compared to tax rebates and subsidies to big businesses ? Also, there is no actual data available about the exact number of pensioners and closest kin receiving the pensions and their current status.”
As per a primary estimate, there are at least 28 lakh ex-servicemen and widows drawing pensions.
The arguments on side of the government, and especially the Finance Ministry, is that as defence personnel retire at an early age, they draw the pensions for much longer periods and thus OROP may result into swelling of the defence budget.
The ratio of pensioners to serving personnel in the military is 1.7:1 as against 0.56:1 among the civilians. But the veterans say it’s the price the nation needs to pay for maintaining a standing Army.
Group Caption S S Phatak (retired) says, “Peaceful agitation will be intensified till the OROP is granted. The anger against the government is visible and already rasta roko and burning of effigies are taking place at some places. The government needs to act fact.”