New Delhi, Sept. 24: The Centre today claimed it was allocating Rs 2,300 crore in sops to the armed forces, including “one rank one pension” (OROP) — a longstanding demand from veteran soldiers — but many are waiting to go through the fine print.
A late-evening media release said today’s decision by the cabinet committee on security is “expected to largely meet the demands of the defence pensioners on OROP”.
The government is trying out a modified parity model that will have no retrospective effect. No arrears will be paid and the changes will come into effect from today.
Put simply, OROP is the demand to give equal pension to soldiers (and officers) who have served for the same duration but retired at different times.
The sops, the government says, will also allow veterans to claim pension for military as well as civilian service (dual pension), enhance family pension and give benefits to the handicapped children of military personnel even after they marry.
The BJP has also been demanding OROP for decades. Today’s decision is a sop to a constituency that is generally believed to be in step with the nationalist sentiments the BJP seeks to represent.
“We have to see what it works out to,” said Maj. Gen. (retired) Satbir Singh, vice chairman of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, which last year deposited gallantry medals with the President as a mark of protest.
“Essentially, we want to know if the government has accepted the soldiers’ definition of ‘one rank one pension’ or what it thinks the definition of ‘OROP’ should be.”
The government estimates it needs about Rs 1,300 crore for OROP to start with. OROP is a complicated issue and, if resolved, will put a huge financial burden on the Centre.
For example, according to the veterans’ demand, the pension due to a havildar who retired in, say, 1995 after about 16 years of service and that due to his son, who retired after the same tenure and in the same rank but in 2006, should be the same.
In other words, the pensions of veteran soldiers should not be differentiated by the periods during which they have served.
By “modified parity”, it is likely the government means that it is considering differentiating between veterans who retired before 1996, after 1996 and after 2006. A notification is likely to detail the categorisation.
The country has an estimated 24 lakh veteran soldiers. Only around 9 per cent of that figure is made up of officers.
The government had constituted a committee of secretaries headed by the cabinet secretary earlier this year to go into the issue. But the service chiefs had resented the absence of any representative from the armed forces from the committee. Subsequently, the service chiefs were consulted by the committee.
The sops also include the grant of non functional upgrade to armed forces personnel in line with that given to civilian employees of the government and an increase in benefits for soldiers’ widows.