Once a lady teacher becomes a widow, her employer – a private educational institution – pressurises her to quit. They feel her new white attire and ‘sad’ face will no longer be attractive to the children. An airhostess is preferred only if she is unmarried. The moment her relationship status changes to ‘married’, she is dumped. Men in uniform are also allowed in the defence forces until they are very young. Picked early into services, most of them retire even before reaching 40.
Inter alia, these are some of the dark sides of our common life that we have seen over the years and have not been able to do anything except for pleading helplessness. However, this time our ex-servicemen have decided to take the challenge, head on, with the government, demanding they deserve better treatment after retirement. They are vociferously clamouring for One Rank One Pension, nicknamed OROP, which roughly means same pension for same length of service, irrespective of date of retirement.
Unlike other occupations, our men in uniform live away from their families for most of their service period and serve at difficult places. And then, after retiring so early, they have to face discrepancies in the pension drawn by them, owing to pay structures changing due to different pay commissions. After the sixth pay commission which saw a jump in the salaries of the forces, discrepancies in pensions have become exaggerated and retired officers want them settled once and for all.
The ex-servicemen are now gearing for a systematic agitation as their earlier protests and march to Rashtrapati Bhavan to surrender service medals didn’t fetch them even an interim relief.
Manohar Parrikar’s appointment as Defence Minister late last year had come as a breath of fresh air to scores of armed forces personnel both serving and the retired. His technical past, administrative excellence and hands on approach appealed to the uniformed community. But on the issue of OROP, he has been outmanoeuvred by the power corridors so much so that there is more than a hint of casual and inattentive bureaucratic and political behaviour.
Members of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, who have met the Defence Minister to discuss the issue, told Greater Voice that initially they were pleasantly surprised at his friendly approach and willingness to listen, unlike a lot of others of his class. But, even after the completion of one year of the government at the Centre, both Parrikar and the Prime Minister have only been reiterating their election promise of announcing OROP scheme that would benefit about 24 ex-servicemen.
As a matter of fact, the government appears to be inclined or pretending to be so to announce OROP “soon”, for it has been sharing the contents of the cabinet note and the calculation sheet with the representatives of the ex-servicemen. The Congress, which itself kept sitting on OROP for decades, is also playing dirty politics by jumping in the fray, to impress upon the countrymen that the party is discharging the role of opposition quite effectively.
In the meantime, various news items are being fed to media purportedly conveying the changing stance of the government on the issue of OROP, much to the disappointment of the war veterans who apprehend that the final solution may be passed on to the 7th Central Pay Commission. Prima Facie, the defence minister who claims that “no file remains with me for more than four hours” has deliberately been sitting over OROP without any specific reason.
As the dates, deadlines or time lines for announcing OROP have now become meaningless, the veteran community is distressed and seething with anger as having being let down. Ironically, in the last one year of the BJP government, Modi Sarkar, as it is called, has announced thousands of crores for various schemes ranging from cleaning the Ganga to waiving of taxes to merchants, raked in over three lakh crores in sale of spectrum and coal blocks, but it finds it difficult to find approximately 8000 crores to fulfil the obligation of OROP.
As VrC Veteran Col Anil Kaul would put it, the government has left the ex-servicemen no choice but to hit the streets and bring the callous attitude of the ministers and civil servants. In a hard-hitting letter to the Defence Minister, Col Kaul recently wrote: “I, like any other veteran, have felt betrayed, more so because our stoic defence for you has been belied. I reiterate Sir, you leave us no choice!”