Sunday, February 16, 2014

NEW DELHI: It's election season, and politicians are promising the one-rank, one-pension (OROP) to retired military personnel yet again. The latest to join the bandwagon is Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who on Friday told a group of ex-servicemen that he backed their long-standing demand. 

"I am on your side. I understand your concerns. You give your life for the country, I will do all that I can to see that your demands are met," said Gandhi, addressing a gathering of over 500 ex-servicemen in Delhi. 

But the fact remains that virtually all parties, including Congress and BJP, have time and again promised 
OROP to ex-servicemen in the run-up to elections but never implemented it once they came to office. 

Both the UPA-I and UPA-II, with Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony as defence ministers, for instance, have refrained from granting OROP despite ex-servicemen holding many protest rallies and returning their medals in thousands in protest. 

OROP basically implies payment of uniform pension to personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement. Consequently, any further enhancement in pension rates will automatically be passed on to past pensioners. The UPA government has certainly revised military pensions, holding that several steps have been taken over the last three to four years to "improve the welfare of ex-servicemen" at the additional cost of Rs 2,200 crore annually, but it is not the OROP the military veterans have been demanding. 

The defence ministry in the past has contended that full OROP is neither financially nor administratively possible. As per one past estimate, full OROP implementation could mean an annual outgo of another Rs 1,200-1,300 crore, apart from payment of arrears in the range of Rs 4,000 crore. "There are also administrative reasons, with possible repercussions from the civil side, public sector and autonomous bodies," said an official. 

"Significant improvements in pension for armed forces personnel were made over and above the benefits that accrued out of implementation of the 
6th Pay Commission. Of the additional annual Rs 2,200 crore, a major share amounting to Rs 1,636 core went towards further improving the pension of PBORs (personnel below officer ranks)," he added. 

But with elections on the horizon, it's time to woo the ex-servicemen with tall promises once again. The defence community of 14 lakh serving and 24 lakh retired military personnel swells into a sizable — albeit diffused — votebank of around 1.5 crore people if family members are also taken into account.

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