The controversy surrounding the Government’s One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme was one of the biggest topics of political discourse in 2015. With signs of a possible conclusion to this issue in 2016, let’s understand what the OROP scheme is and why it is causing a nationwide uproar.
1. What is the OROP scheme?
The One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme gives servicemen of the same rank and same length of service the same pension regardless of the date of their retirement. In simple words, the OROP reform would allow a General who retired in 1980 to receive the same pension as a General retiring in 2015 serving the same number of years in the army. This is especially needed in the military where soldiers retire at a younger age and can’t easily switch to other careers or get a living wage from the pension. With close to 22 lakh retired servicemen and over six lakh war widows as immediate beneficiaries of the scheme, the estimated cost for OROP implementation is Rs. 8,000 to 10,000 crore.
2. What happened with the UPA Government?
Demands for OROP by the ex-servicemen have been on-going ever since the era of Indira Gandhi, who had promised its implementation. In February 2009, A major countrywide strike began for the implementation of this scheme. More than 300 retired soldiers of varying ranks marched to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi and returned medals won for distinguished service for the implementation of the scheme. In order to appease the ex-servicemen, the UPA government declared that it had earmarked Rs 2,200 crore annually to improve the pension of ‘Person’s Below Officer Rank (PBOR)’ as a step towards partial implementation of the scheme. Even though a lot of veterans did benefit from this initiative, it was merely a compromise. After another series of protests by ex-servicemen, the UPA Government in its last Budget in 2014, months before the national election, announced that OROP would be implemented, but allocated an insufficient Rs 500 crore for the scheme.
3. How has the NDA Government handled this issue?
One Rank One Pension was an election promise of the BJP with Narendra Modi making the implementation of OROP a rallying call to win the support of armed forces and veterans. However, these pledges and promises did not reach fruition immediately. The BJP ambivalence provoked nationwide protests by the veterans yet again in June 2015. On 5 September 2015, the NDA Government, following 83 days of public protest, announced the unilateral implementation the OROP Scheme for the Armed Forces. The order to implement the scheme was issued two months later on 7 November 2015.
4. So, why are the veterans still protesting?
Despite the implementation of OROP by the BJP government, the veterans remain unsatisfied. According to them, the government has only accepted two out of their six-point demand. The implemented OROP will stick to equalizing pension every five years and not every year or maximum two years as demanded by the veterans. The base year being 2013, the pension will be equalized next in 2017. The veterans are also against the setting up a one-member judicial commission for looking into such inter-services issues, instead of a committee under the Defence Minister, which would include an ex-serviceman too. They have also opposed the exclusion of ex-servicemen who had opted for pre-mature retirement from the ambit of OROP.
5. Where does the government stand on OROP now?
The Government has been insisting that the Modi Government has fully granted OROP for veterans, after four decades of agitation. Government sources are of the opinion that some of the agitating veterans are politically inclined and will keep up their protests ahead of the crucial Punjab elections. Meanwhile, Arun Jaitley hiked India’s defence budget in the 2016-17 Union Budget to 2.58 lakh crore mainly due to the OROP scheme. The defence budget (including the pension budget) now accounts for nearly 17.2 % of the total Central Government expenditure for the year 2016-17 which is Rs 19.78 lakh crore.
Most recently, paramilitary veterans have announced yet another protest for OROP on 15th March, which mean that this isn’t the end of the story.
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