The Modi government, which always uses the armed forces as a pawn in its nationalism game it plays to get electoral dividends, on ground doesn’t seem to care much about the welfare of the armed forces personnel.
Had it not been the case, then it wouldn’t have been dragging its feet over giving the One Rank One Pension (OROP) dues to the ex-servicemen, as promised.
Had it not been for the Supreme Court (SC), the government would have continued to defer the payments, citing fund crunch as the reason.
Earlier last week, the SC ordered the government to pay the long awaited OROP dues in different categories and instalments.
Widows and gallantry award winners would receive their arrears by March 31, those above 70 years by June 30 and rest by December 2023 and February 28, 2024.
The SC accepted the Centre’s plea that payment of Rs 28,000 crore towards 0R0P arrears for nearly 21 lakh ex-servicemen at one go could impact defence preparedness, thereby, allowing staggered payment with the last instalment payable by February 28, 2024!
It may be noted that this was the third extension granted to the Centre, following the March 2022 judgment of the top court affirming the OROP scheme.
The first extension of three months was granted in June 2022 and the second for the same length of time in September. March 15, 2023 was the last date by which date the government was to pay the OROP arrears. On January 9, Supreme Court granted time till March 15 to the Centre for payment of complete arrears.
But on January 20 the Defence Ministry had issued a communication that the arrears will be paid in four yearly instalments, which was challenged by a group of ex-servicemen.
Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud asked the Defence Ministry to set its house in order and directed the Defence Secretary to submit an affidavit explaining the situation. It is quite evident that the Government knew payment of OROP was inevitable and had enough time to arrange for this amount.
The government succeeded once more in further delaying the legitimate payment due to the retired solders, which always protected the unity and integrity of the country high by laying down their lives.
But their sacrifice has been apparently neglected by the government as it has been repeatedly delaying in releasing the legitimate dues of ex-servicemen.
Nearly four lakh pensioners have died awaiting receipt of their dues. Concept of OROP envisages same pension, for same rank, for same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement. It is a longstanding demand of the Indian armed forces and veterans. This needs to be updated annually.
In response to the growing unease in the Armed Forces, the Government set up of a ten-member all-party Parliamentary Panel, known as the Koshyari Committee after its chairman, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, former Governor of Maharashtra and veteran Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament (MP), to examine the OROP issue.
The Committee after considering the evidence, and hearing oral depositions for eight months, submitted its report in December 2011. The committee unanimously found merit in OROP and strongly recommended its implementation. Despite all these developments, UPA Government was slow to implement OROP.
General Election was scheduled in 2014. The BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at a large election rally, in Rewari, Haryana, with General (retd) V K Singh, former Chief of Army Staff standing by his side, in the presence of thousands of ex-Servicemen, declared that he will implement OROP, if elected.
After Modi became Prime Minister, there were more promises and public affirmations him. Most memorably on Diwali, at Siachen Glacier, in 2014, where he told soldiers “It was in my destiny that wish for OROP got fulfilled”.
On May 30, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after more than a year of pledges and promises to implement OROP, controversially declared that the term OROP still needed to be defined.
Since that day, about seven years have passed to get the OROP dues, but the wait for Armed Forces veterans continues. They seem to be getting isolated from the other central services, even the para-military forces and civilians with respect to financial benefits, status and honour.
The politicians in this country love to use the name of Armed Forces for their electoral gains. Whenever elections approach, the anti-Pakistan and anti-China shrill becomes louder, so does numerous promise for the Armed Forces. For last many years, OROP has been a constant feature in electoral promises.
But just like any other unfulfilled promise, the OROP has also remained unfulfilled. Already, the Agniveer scheme has caused lot of heartburn in the community. Now, the non-payment of OROP dues is further compounding the agony of th ex-Servicemen.
While they form a major chunk of vote bank, their aspirations remain unfulfilled. The government is making a huge mistake by playing with the emotions of a community, which considered as country’s vanguard. The government is literally playing with fire. A demotivated force is detrimental to national security, the government must not forget this.