Agitating ex-servicemen today called off their indefinite hunger strike after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement that One Rank-One Pension will cover...
Agitating ex-servicemen today called off their indefinite hunger strike after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement that One Rank-One Pension will cover all those who took premature retirement but decided to continue their protest till all their demands were met.
Welcoming the Prime Minister’s clarification on extension of OROP to those who retired prematurely, a major sticking point in resolving the stand-off between the government and defence veterans, leader of agitating ex-servicemen Major General (Retd) Satbir Singh said revision of pension after a gap of five years, as announced yesterday, was unacceptable and stressed on an yearly review.
Singh warned that ex-servicemen will be “forced” to resume their “hunger strike till death” if there was no satisfactory resolution of the pending issues by the government.
The government’s decision to appoint a one-member judicial commission to examine various aspects of the OROP has also been rejected by the agitators as they demanded a five-member commitee comprising three ex-servicemen, one serving member from the armed forces and a representative from the Ministry of Defence.
Addressing a press conference at Jantar Mantar, the venue of their nearly three-month-long stir, Singh said the committee should function directly under the Defence Minister and submit its report within one month.
Singh said it was agreed during the negotiations that the base year for calculation of pension would be 2013-14 and not calender year 2013. Pressing for March 31, 2014 as base date, Singh said if government sticks to the calender year, than December 31 should be the basis for fixing the benefits.
“We have called off the hunger strike but protest will continue till all our major demands are met,” Singh said, adding a massive ‘Gaurav rally’ will be organised here on September 12 for “quick resolution” of the pending issues.
“We are confident that in the next 15 days or a month the government will issue a letter about OROP implementation. If the government does not follow any point of view or if it goes against our satisfaction, then we will resume our hunger strike till death,” he said.
He thanked the Prime Minister for “clarifying” the government’s position on the premature retirement issue as there was confusion over whether a large number of ex-servicemen would be deprived of the OROP benefits.
“Another contentious issue was the VRS, which was in the draft when we met the Defence Minister yesterday. We told him that the defence forces do not have the concept of VRS, but we have premature retirement.
“We have been told that those who have taken premature retirement will also be covered under the OROP. And even the PM has also cleared the air on the issue and put an end to it,” said Singh.
Elaborating on the sticking points, Singh said “It was agreed that we would be given top of the scale. Now they have given the average of the scale which is not acceptable.”
Thirteen ex-servicemen, who were on hunger strike, called it off at around 2:30 PM after requests from their leadership.
Singh said the protest will continue till “four specific points” raised by the ex-servicemen were not accepted by the government.
The veterans, who have been pressing for one rank-one pension (OROP) for four decades, yesterday won a partial victory with the government announcing that it would implement it.
The veterans had met Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar last night and later said his clarification regarding premature retirement was “satisfying”.
The government had anounced that the arrears, estimated to cost the exchequer anywhere between Rs 10,000 crore to Rs 12,000 crore, would be paid in four half-yearly instalments. However, all widows, including war widows, will be paid in single instalment.
The Defence Minister had said the cost of implementing OROP itself would be Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore and it will increase further.
Close to 26 lakh retired servicemen and over six lakh war widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme.
Satbir Singh and other members of the United Front of Ex-servicemen convinced the veterans who had been on fast-unto-death, some of them since August 16, to end their hunger strike.
There was jubilation when the veterans broke their fast, partaking of prasad brought from a Gurudwara.
“I have not lost much weight. Its only 8.5 kg,” said Col Pushpendra Singh after breaking the fast.
“I will again sit on fast if need arises,” Singh, who had to be hospitalised during the course of his hunger strike, said.