Govt announces OROP, but leaves many unanswered questions
- Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar announced the govt\'s plan to introduce OROP
- His speech was more about politics and pats on the govt back than the details of the plan itself
- His BJP colleagues have hailed the announcement as the BJP delivering on its promise
- Political opponents like Nitish Kumar have criticised the shape the govt has given to OROP
- Protesting veterans have called off their strike, but insist their agitation will continue
- The govt\'s refusal to include those who have opted for VRS is a sticking point
- Veterans insist the plan to revise pensions every five years goes against the principle of OROP
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's speech announcing the One Rank One Pension scheme for ex-servicemen sounded more like a political broadcast at a political rally than the announcement of an important policy change.
In fact, the entire exercise seemed to be a byproduct of haste. After all, the government wanted to announce OROP before the notification of the Bihar elections, after which the code of conduct would've been enforced and made any announcement impossible.
The govt's OROP plan
In principle, the OROP scheme envisages a uniform pension for defence personnel who retire at the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Close to 26 lakh retired servicemen and over six lakh widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme.
But Parrikar, instead of addressing the beneficiaries, started out by highlighting in detail how previous governments didn't implement the scheme. He then gloated about how the Modi government had kept its promise.
Somewhere in between, he mentioned the actual details of the government's OROP plan.
- That it would take 2013 as the base year for pensions
- That it would revise pensions every five years
- That it would not apply to those who had opted for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme
- And that a one-member judicial committee would be set up to work out details of implementation, which would have to report in six months.
Parrikar spent most of his time patting his own back with words like: "Despite the huge fiscal burden, given its commitment to the welfare of ex-servicemen, government has decided to implement OROP."
What the minister didn't clear during his 10-minute long speech were basics like a time-frame by when defence veterans will start getting their revised pensions, or if the government will disallow OROP to a veteran who opted for VRS due to medical reasons.
He didn't explain the basis on which pensions will be revised after every five years.
Parrikar's speech sounded more like a political rally than the announcement of an important policy
Till recently, government officials, while talking to the press, had claimed that in some cases, they had lost records of ex-servicemen and their families. How will the government disburse arrears and pensions in these cases?
Even the total amount to be spent in the name of OROP is not clear. Parrikar could only give approximations - between eight to ten thousand crore as the additional burden in implementing OROP each year, and arrears of between ten to twelve thousand crore.
It probably means that the government is still not clear about the actual amount that, through its announcement on 5 September, it has committed itself to.
Official fills in the blanks
A senior government functionary, on the condition of anonymity, said ex-servicemen above 60 years of age and war widows would be given preference over other candidates. If this is government policy, why did Parrikar not announce it?
On the question of how the government was expecting the veterans, who have been on an 84-day protest and hunger strike, to react, the senior functionary said: "There is just one trouble-maker on their side, rest everyone is ready to accept our proposal."
But what if the veterans continue their agitation and refuse to accept the government's proposal?
The official said: "This is the best we could give them. This is what they get. Some of those people are saying those who've opted for VRS should also be given revised pensions, but why? If they've taken VRS, it means that they got better jobs elsewhere."
Many of Parrikar's colleagues, like Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting and retired colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, also joined in the self-praise.
Rathore said the BJP government had resolved a 40-year agitation in just 15 months. He said the government would ensure 'modifications' to deliver the scheme in 'full spirit'.
BJP president Amit Shah said: "We have not just fulfilled the promise, but implemented it as well. The Modi government has provided the retired and serving servicemen a financial security net."
But the man who wants to prevent the BJP from coming to power in Bihar, incumbent CM Nitish Kumar, said on Twitter: "OROP adds on to the series of fallacious announcements so typical of Modi Sarkar. A real travesty & contempt of our brave soldiers."
Nitish also compared OROP to the special package that Modi had recently announced for Bihar, adding: "Wonder when Modi Sarkar will be upright in their announcements and initiatives."
Veterans' agitation to continue
After the announcement, defence veterans have called off their protest and hunger strike, but claim that the agitation will continue till all their demands are met.
This is because, according to the veterans, OROP has still not been implemented in spirit. They claimed that what the government had announced could be called 'One Rank, Five Pensions'.
"The revision of pension after every five years will not be in the spirit of OROP, because many serving men in uniform will retire in the five-year period, and they will continue to get a higher pension than what their seniors, who retired at the same rank earlier, are drawing. Therefore, we urge the government to rethink it," said Major-General (retd) Satbir Singh.
He added that the ex-servicemen on protest want clarification on the VRS point in the OROP. "We want a clarification on the VRS issue; if they still don't accept it, then it is a big blow to the forces."