An unfortunate suicide of a veteran plunged the capital into a political soap opera on Wednesday. One Rank One Pension (OROP), an emotive issue that has been in the thick of controversy since the last four decades, showed it won’t fade away anytime soon.
With elections slated in the coming year in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand, among others, expect politicians to dramatise what frankly needs some quiet, hard sorting.
To be sure, the Narendra Modi government has walked some distance when it comes to OROP.
Last November, they operationalised the scheme. Money, in the form of enhanced pension, has begun flowing into the bank accounts of a majority of 20,68,292 ex-servicemen and widows. The scheme will cost the exchequer about Rs 10,000 crore in arrears and nearly Rs 8,000 crore in annual outflows.
Now compare this to what the Congress-led UPA did. After an entire decade, it announced OROP in its final budget and allocated only Rs 500 crore for the scheme. It never issued a letter operationalising the scheme, perhaps aware that it could hardly achieve anything with a budget as paltry.
What is also a fact is that OROP, in its original form, ironically suggested by BJP’s BS Koshiari who headed a parliamentary panel on the matter, has not been achieved.
The single biggest cause (among many others) for resentment is the government’s condition that pension revision will happen once in five years. This many veterans believe "kills the essence".
OROP, the veterans hold, is nothing if not automatic updation of pension every time a hike sets in, so that two retired veterans with the same rank and identical years of service do not get separate pension.
|OROP, sadly, has found more space in publicity campaigns of the ruling party and not elsewhere. (Photo credit: India Today)|
In November last year, when the scheme was operationalised, protesting veterans declared it a "langdee OROP" (handicapped OROP).
Perhaps aware of the minefield it was stepping into, the defence ministry, the very next month, appointed a single-member committee to examine the anomalies of OROP. While the committee submitted its report recently, the ministry has not gone public with the content.
Seeking resolution, a section of the veterans have again begun protesting at Jantar Mantar. In the Supreme Court, where the veterans have challenged the government on the issue, November 6 is the next date of hearing.
OROP, sadly, has found more space in publicity campaigns of the ruling party and not elsewhere.
To make matters worse, issues like reduction in the pension of armed forces' personnel disabled on duty, the functional equivalence of armed forces' personnel being brought down vis-a-vis civilians, various anomalies of the Seventh Pay Commission, unresolved anomalies of previous pay commissions, lack of clarity on the aspect of allowances (this holds for all government servants) have been left unaddressed.
While the issue of disability pension has somewhat been addressed, the cumulative aftertaste is bitter and across the board. While all former points are in the realm of policymaking, at the level of implementation too there is discord.
Based out of Pune, for years Commander RW Pathak (retd) has been helping veterans and widows get their correct pension.
“Earlier, we were issued Pension Payment Orders (PPOs) with the defence ministry working out all calculations. The banks would refer to these PPOs and pay. Ever since the calculations were outsourced to the banks, who have neither the staff nor skills to understand defence pensions, people are struggling to get their dues,” he said.
Pathak’s views, echoed by veterans, also found support within the system. “Our soldiers are suffering hugely. Banks earn a commission when they disburse pension but are doing this job too casually,” said a defence ministry auditor.
By ending his life, Ram Kishan Grewal brought the spotlight on to the indifference that we subject our soldiers to. The reality is that millions among our veterans and war widows face treatment similar to, if not worse than, what Grewal had to.
What are we waiting for?