The >suicide of Subedar Ram Kishen Grewal , allegedly over delay in receiving arrears under the One Rank, One Pension scheme, has set off a political storm. In a related move, the ex-servicemen groups >demanding unconditional OROP have resumed their protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar; it had been called off six months ago after assurances from Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Amidst all this, the real issues in the implementation of OROP have been lost sight of. The veterans are demanding OROP in its rightful form, which going by the accepted definition implies uniform pension to armed forces personnel retiring with the same rank and length of service regardless of the date of retirement. Among the major concerns highlighted by the veterans are: annual equalisation as against the approved five years; exclusion of those who opt for premature retirement (PMR) from the ambit of OROP; implementation from April 2014; and adoption of the highest pay scale of 2013 for revising pension. The government’s predicament is obvious. Except for PMR, all these are financial issues and have budgetary implications. >Annual pension revision for over 20 lakh people would also be an administrative challenge.
The big issue is PMR, as it has consequences for the armed forces that go beyond extra pension money. The Centre’s OROP notification said “personnel who opt to get discharged henceforth on their own request” will not be entitled to its benefits. This made a distinction between those who opted for PMR in the past and those who may do so in future. There is still no clarity on the criteria of PMR, which has created confusion in the rank and file, particularly among those who are looking to leave the service after completing the pensionable service or have been superseded and have no further chances of promotion. It is debatable whether officers opting to leave the service on their own for better prospects and drawing regular pension should be given the additional benefit of OROP. However, there needs to be clarity to the PMR criteria, else it could push back efforts to build a younger Army and improve promotion opportunities. As for the implementation status, about Rs.5,500 crore had been disbursed; of the roughly 20.6 lakh pensioners, only one lakh are still to get the money. That the protests in Delhi have dwindled reflects the larger mood among the veterans. It is a welcome step that OROP has been granted after 40 years of demands, but the Centre must quickly iron out the remaining wrinkles.