NEW DELHI:Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday asserted that his government was committed to the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme but stopped short of setting any timeline for its implementation, drawing strong reactions from ex-servicemen who vowed to step up their protests.
In his Independence Day speech, Modi said the vexed issue was in the last stages of resolution and hoped for a “pleasant outcome.” Though he touched upon OROP towards the fag end of his speech, it was clear the issue was important, given the emotions it evoked in the armed forces.
“Every government has given small promises but the issue has not been resolved. Even after I came, I have not been able to do it till now. Today, I am assuring my soldiers once again. Am saying this under the Tricolour, standing on ramparts of Red Fort, my soldiers, we have given in-principle approval for OROP. But talks with stakeholders are on and have reached final stages,” Modi said.
He explained his government was working out the nitty-gritty. “After talking to people concerned, we are moving ahead,” he added. But, absence of any concrete promise led to ex-servicemen attacking the government. Their relay hunger strike in Delhi entered the 62nd day on Saturday. “We are totally disappointed. We expected the Prime Minister to at least announce a time-frame or a date. But all we got was reiteration of in-principle approval of OROP which was done by the government when it came to power,” Maj Gen Satbir Singh (Retd), Chairman of Indian Ex-Servicemen movement said.
He said the ex-servicemen have decided to intensify their stir from Sunday in a peaceful manner. “I am ashamed of the Prime Minister. We want the OROP without any dilution. What talks, when and how long? Where is Gen VK Singh, where is Col Rathore? Why haven’t they resigned?” questioned Deepa Neb, daughter and wife of a retired defence personnel.
The issue has the potential to snowball into a major embarrassment for the government as army veterans have been hoping for a resolution. Even the police move to remove them from their protest venue, Jantar Mantar, in the wake of security arrangements for I-Day had led to a lot of heart burn among them.
What left the protesting veterans high and dry was that Modi did not say anything new. “I am sorry, principle was accepted 17 months ago and he has also accepted it. I want to ask the Prime Minister, what is holding the implementation of OROP?” Maj Gen Satbir questioned. The veterans want pensions benchmarked at 2014 rates and reject the government’s offer of 2011 rates. The move would benefit 22 lakh ex-servicemen and over six lakh war widows.
Even the Congress accused Modi of going back on his promise. Former Defence Minister AK Antony termed the delay in OROP implementation ‘criminal’ and claimed that the previous UPA government had accepted OROP and even completed all the formalities.