NEW DELHI: Congress and BJP were today engaged in a bitter war of words over government's announcement of 'One Rank One Pension' with the opposition party calling its provisions "betrayal" of ex servicemen while the ruling outfit accused Congress of playing a "joke" on veterans when in power.
Former Defence Minister A K Antony took on the government over the OROP details after Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar took dig at its previous government for the allocation of mere Rs 500 cr towards fulfilling the long pending demand of ex-servicemen without explaining specifics or "thorough analysis".
"The OROP announcement is a great disappointment as provisions for the benefit of ex-servicemen have been substantially diluted. It is a betrayal of their cause," Antony and another senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal told a press conference.
Highlighting the rejection of the most of the OROP provisions by the agitating veterans at Jantar Mantar, they said the government should "ponder over" it instead of "patting its back and chest-thumping". By excluding from the OROP benefits those ex-servicemen who quit voluntarily, the government has deprived over 46 per cent of retired defence personnel from any financial gains.
"It's an insult to ex-servicemen," Sibal said. However, BJP leaders led by party chief Amit Shah claimed credit for what Shah termed as a "historic" decision and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had fulfilled his commitment made to the veterans during 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign.
Attacking Congress, Shah said the pension of ex-servicemen was decreased by its government in the 70s and slammed the allocation of only Rs 500 crore for OROP by the previous UPA government.
"In 1973 their pension was reduced from 70 per cent to 50 per cent (of salary) and the demand for OROP has been hanging fire since.... The previous Congress government in its last moments made an allocation of Rs 500 crore for it and this was a joke with servicemen," Shah told reporters, noting that an additional expenditure of Rs 9,000-10,000 crore annually will go towards it.
The BJP government has given economic security to ex-servicemen as well the serving personnel who will retire later, he told reporters. Senior BJP leader and Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu urged the veterans to halt their agitation and slammed Congress for "politicising" the issue.
"The basic demand of OROP of the ex servicmen has been accepted. These are ancillary issues, which can be discussed," he said.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar slammed the Centre over the issue and described the agitation by ex servicemen as "unfortunate" which reflected very poorly on the country. "A decision in principle for implementation of One Rank One Pension was taken during previous UPA rule... this government of Narendra Modi had to merely implement it which they could not do even after lapse of 15 months of coming to power,"
Kumar, who has joined hands with Congress to take on BJP in the Bihar Assembly polls, said.