Friday, July 3, 2015

Ex-servicemen to Boycott Golden Jubilee of 1965 Indo-Pak War over One Rank One Pension issue

 Sandeep Unnithan   |     

Ex-servicemen would boycott the golden jubilee celebrations of the government. The government's stand-off with ex-servicemen over the grant of One Rank One Pension is set to turn uglier. Ex-servicemen have now decided to boycott the golden jubilee celebrations of the 1965 war with Pakistan. The celebrations begin next month.

"We don't wish to be treated as showpieces, to be rolled out for ceremonies and discarded thereafter," an incensed 1965 war veteran Brigadier Harwant Singh told MAIL TODAY. Brigadier Harwant saw action in the bitterest phase of the 1965 war, in the Chhamb-Akhnoor sector, turned down a July 4 invitation to attend a seminar on the war organised by the Western Army Command at Chandimandir.

The seminar is part of a series of events being held by the Army to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war. The events will culminate in a felicitation of 1965 war veterans by President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in October this year, which the veterans also threaten to boycott.

"We have decided to boycott all government functions until the government grants us OROP. The boycott includes the 1965 war celebrations and the reception by the Supreme Commander President Mukherjee," said Major General Satbir Singh, Indian Ex-Servicemen's Movement's chairman.

Some veterans however questioned the wisdom of shunning an Army function. "We shouldn't be cutting our nose to spite our face," says Major General Ian Cardozo (retired), 1971 war veteran. "It is a war that we fought and won and we will be playing into the hands of the bureaucrats by boycotting it," he said.

"We should leave Army events out of the boycott, after all, these are meant to remember war heroes," says Lt General Raj Kadyan (retired). "The decision to participate or shun an event should be left to the conscience of every soldier."

Ex-servicemen have been on a relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar since June 14 demanding the grant of One Rank One Pension or the grant of equal pension for similar rank and same length of service, regardless of the last drawn pay. The NDA had made OROP an election plank and promised to implement it if voted to power. The Ministry of Defence calculated it would mean paying out Rs 8,300 crore each year to 24 lakh ex-servicemen. On May 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that his government was committed to OROP.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar too has promised that OROP is on its way, but the veterans are distraught at the delay. "We have waited a decade for this, we only want them to give us a deadline," Brigadier Harwant Singh said One key obstacle to the OROP is believed to be finance ministry bureaucrats who say it will trigger similar demands from the central paramilitary forces.

Veterans, meanwhile, plan to extend their boycott of government functions to the Independence Day at-home tea party on August 15. There will be no Ex-Servicemen contingent at the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2016, they have warned.

The boycott of the 1965 war celebrations is the most dramatic step since ex-servicemen surrendered their medals. Beginning in 2008, over 22,000 veterans deposited their medals at the Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest the UPA's refusal to grant OROP.

Over 10,000 medals piled up at the IESM office in Delhi after the President's office stopped collecting medals in 2011.

"Ex-servicemen are forced to resort to such steps because the government has ignored their demands. The government, particularly the bureaucracy is well versed with the issue but chooses to ignore it," says Major General Surjit Singh (retired).

What's the Fuss all About 

1. Armed forces personnel holding the same rank and same length of service will get the same pension, regardless of the last drawn pay under the One Rank One Pension Scheme.

2. Armed forces personnel in the same rank do not draw the same pension. Discrepancy widens every 10 years after every pay commission. A major general retiring before 1996 today draws less pension than a lieutenant-colonel retiring after 1996.

3. Accepted by the UPA in 2014, but never implemented. Election promise by NDA in 2014. Yet to be fulfilled despite multiple assurances from PM and defence minister.

4. Soldiers start retiring at 34 years of age. Paramilitary personnel serve until 60 years.

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