Monday, September 7, 2015

Those taking voluntary retirement too will get OROP benefit, assures Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said he had fulfilled his promise to implement one rank, one pension (OROP) in contrast to previous governments that paid mere lip service to the issue and slammed critics of the decision for attempting to mislead the armed forces while assuring ex-servicemen that residual niggles would be sorted out.

Speaking at the launch of the Delhi-Faridabad Metro, Modi emphatically reassured the armed forces community that those who opt for premature retirement would receive OROP benefits. "If anybody gets OROP, jawans will be the first. Those injured, those who had to compulsorily leave will get OROP. A prime minister who loves the armed forces cannot even think of depriving such people of OROP benefits," he said. 

"The bulk of the Rs 10,000 crore of OROP will be for the jawans and soldiers who have served 15 years for this country. Don't be misled. There is no pay commission that has been set up. It is only a judicial commission to address any shortcomings, to see if any small changes are needed," he said at the meeting where he was greeted on stage by several retired armed forces personnel, many of whom presented flowers to the PM. 

UPA misled ex-servicemen on pension plan: PM 

Sharply targeting Congress, Modi asked, "Do those who did nothing for 40 years have the right to speak on behalf of jawans", getting the crowd to shout a loud "no" in response. Referring to UPA's interim budget before the 2014 election, he said, "Those who allocated Rs 500 crore could not understand the issue. They only misled you and committed sins. They want to score political points ... One-upmanship will not help the nation."

Addressing a large and responsive crowd, Modi said he began his campaign as BJP's PM candidate in September 2013 at nearby Rewari promising he would implement OROP. "After I became PM, I realized this is a complicated matter. I have separated it strand by strand to reach a solution. It was pending for over four decades. Everyone paid lip sympathy but no justice was done," he said.

The PM urged ex-servicemen to allow a committee proposed along with the OROP award to resolve pending issues. "If there are some shortcomings, allow the committee to examine the issues," he said. 

Looking to strike a chord with his Haryana audience, he said one in 10 armed force personnel hailed from the state and enhanced pension benefits will be a major economic boost. Emphasizing his personal involvement, he said he closely monitored the OROP issue and realized the Rs 300 crore mentioned by a parliamentary committee or Rs 500 crore by the previous government were totally inadequate.

Perhaps seeking to drive home the quantum of benefits being offered to ex-servicemen, he said, "This is not just a matter of Rs 300 crore or so... The payments will amount to around Rs 8,000-10,000 crore." 

The PM's politically significant comments come a day after the government announced the OROP package after months of tough negotiations during which ex-servicemen staged a dharna and went on indefinite fast. His strong defence of the decision, appeal to ex-servicemen to accept the award and counter-attack against Congress were intended to defuse an issue that had become a political hot potato for the government. His forceful intervention seemed to have had its effects with the ex-servicemen significantly scaling down their protests.

The venue for the meeting in Haryana also provided the right backdrop as the Rewari rally of 2013 had been organized by ex-servicemen and a massive turnout then - on a Sunday as well -- had proved to be the launching pad for Modi's prime ministerial campaign. Apart from the pressing need to resolve an emotive issue relating to the armed forces, the OROP announcement might have become tricky if the Bihar polls had been called and the model code of conduct had kicked in. 

Arguing that he had not shied away from a "difficult" decision, the ramifications of which are not fully clear, the PM said, "Jawans in the Army have to retire after 15-17 years of service. A few people think they will not get OROP... they are misleading you by terming it as VRS (voluntary retirement scheme)." 

The PM added, "There's a new fashion that when the government takes a good decision it is questioned by those who do not want development." The PM said around 85% of the Army comprising jawans who retire compulsorily after 15-17 years will benefit the most from the OROP decision.

Modi said the government began working on OROP right away after assuming office. "We promised we would deliver it and it is being implemented from June 2014. Whether it's the Hawildar, Sipahi or Nayak, I will ensure that they will be the first to get it," he said. 

OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement, and any future enhancement  in the rates of Pension to be automatically passed onto the past pensioners.

However there are some minor issues which need to be attended on priority for OROP to be fully functional.

  • Government has recommended fixing of pension based on mean of max and min of basic pay of the year; This arithmetic defeats the basic definition of OROP as it will lead to one rank and many pensions and hence is not acceptable to ESM. There will be very minimal expenditure to Government on this issue.

  • Periodical pension equalization has to be one year whereas Govt  has announced it to be five years thereby completely distorting the OROP definition. Government has recommended that this issue will be referred to a single judge committee to adjudicate the period of pension equalization. UFESM is of the opinion that committee should consist of five members out of which three should be from ESM and one serving soldier under the chairmanship of a judge. This report should be completed in fifteen days or max one month. 
  • MOD must confirm the date by which the Government letter will be issued. Agitation and RHS will be called of only after receipt of Government letter. Our experience with bureaucrats has been less than satisfactory because ESM had been shortchanged on many occasions in language of the order. Latest experience being that of Rank pay issue.       

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