Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar announces the grant of OROP on Saturday in New Delhi
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Sept 15
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar addressed a packed press conference in New Delhi on Saturday to announce the government’s acceptance of OROP. Stating, “the government of India respects its armed forces and ex-servicemen”, Parrikar said OROP would be implemented with effect from July 1, 2014 and would cost the government Rs 18,000-22,000 crore this year.
The government has committed to pay Rs 10,000-12,000 crore as arrears, and another Rs 8,000-10,000 crore towards this year’s enhanced pensions. With the central budget having allocated Rs 54,500 crore for military pensions this year, actual spending on defence pensions would now rise to Rs 72,500-76,500 crore.
Parrikar said, “In simple terms, OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to the armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of their date of retirement. Future enhancements in the rates of pension would be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”
However, former soldiers, sailors and airmen who have staged an almost three-month public agitation for their demand of “one rank, one pension” (OROP) took just minutes to reject most of the government’s offer, which failed to meet key demands.
Ex-servicemen agitation leaders in New Delhi expressed particular unhappiness about the exclusion from OROP of those who take premature retirement (PMR) before reaching the age of superannuation from service. When a delegation of agitation leaders conveyed this to Parrikar soon after his announcement, the defence minister quickly addressed their concerns, providing an assurance that even soldiers who took PMR would be granted OROP.
General Satbir Singh, who heads the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) agreed to withdraw the fast-unto-death of ex-servicemen, subject to the latest decision being given in writing. However, he said the larger agitation would continue until all the demands of the agitation are met.
According to the government’s OROP award, there will now be dynamic and continually rising pension scales for ex-servicemen, since pay commissions invariably raise military salaries and, therefore, pensions of the beneficiaries when they retire.
“This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pension of current and past pensioners at periodic intervals”, said Parrikar. “It has been decided that the gap between rate of pension of current pensioners and past pensioners will be bridged every five years”.
The ex-servicemen groups have flatly rejected this. General Satbir told Business Standard that pensioners cannot wait five years for parity in pensions. Instead, pensions should be adjusted (equalised) every year.
Indicating that the ex-servicemen’s vote bank has acquired a new salience, Parrikar issued a detailed critique of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, which, like other governments for the preceding four decades, had “remained ambivalent” on OROP. He said the complexity of OROP was why the National Democratic Alliance government had taken so long to announce its implementation.
“In February 2014, the then government stated that OROP would be implemented in 2014-15, but did not specify what OROP would be, how it would be implemented or how much it would cost. An estimated Rs 500 crore provided for OROP in the budget presented in February 2014 was not based on any thorough analysis. It is pertinent to mention that the then minister of state for defence in 2009 had, in reply to a question, informed Parliament that there are administrative, technical and financial difficulties in implementing OROP. It is for these reasons that the present government took some time to fulfil its promise.”
Talking to Business Standard after the announcement, Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh said, “The government has taken a decision that this is what we can give them (the ex-servicemen). It will now be put to them and one can only hope that saner elements amongst them will prevail.”
Basic features of OROP grant
OROP granted with effect from July 1, 2014
Arrears to be paid in four half-yearly instalments
Widows of casualties to be paid in single instalments
OROP will increase annual pension bill by Rs 10,000 crore
This amount will rise in the future in tandem with military salaries
Arrears will involve a one-time payment of Rs 12,000 crore
Pensions will be equalised and adjusted for OROP once every five years
Pensions to be the average of maximum and minimum pension paid in 2013