By Rhea Yadav
The interim budget of 2014 may be termed as disappointing and full of last-ditch populist methods however, there is one scheme whose approval calls for celebration.
The One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme has been a long-standing demand of ex-servicemen and though it came far later than when it was demanded, the OROP scheme is going to benefit a sizeable defence community of close to two crore people if family members are taken into account.
So what exactly does One Rank One Pension mean?
‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ is one of the directing principles of the Indian Constitution and the One Rank One Pension policy derives its essence from this very same tenet.
The defence forces and ex-servicemen associations demand for a uniform pension to be paid to defence personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service. The date of retirement should not be considered and whatever future enhancements are made in the rates of pension, they be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.
Earlier, soldiers were in receipt of different pensions just because they retired on different dates. And when two soldiers find this out, they obviously find it difficult to reconcile with the situation. The feeling of hurt brought about by this system is not only restricted to the lower ranks. General officers also took the matter to the Supreme Court when their pension got depressed after the Fifth Pay Commission. The actual difference in pensions in most cases is not more than 10 to 15 percent but the heartburn and demoralisation that this causes makes this a legitimate and just plea.
OROP was one of the only long-standing and pending demand of defence personnel. No responsible and reasonable person has ever denied the plausibility and need for OROP. This will directly benefit veterans who are not only old but needy too and having served the nation selflessly in their own time, they deserve to be treated equally. This will also instill a sense of fairness and act as a motivator to defence personnel and reiterate the only two things which should and which do matter – rank and length of service.
Though the UPA government has been mulling over this proposal for over 10 years, it has come in only now. It can be called a desperate attempt to woo voters from multiple groups in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, the defence personnel vote bank being their target with this proposal. There are also concerns over the meagre 500 crore that the government has transferred to the defence pension account since the Ministry of Defence and the Controller General of Defence Accounts has calculated around Rs. 3,000 per year for OROP. Another concern is that civilian pensioners would also demand for the same now which could imply an extra financial burden of Rs. 8,000 crore per annum on the Exchequer.
What remains to be seen now is that whether the government is finally coming out of its slumber to realise that there is, indeed, a vote bank other than the conventional rural group they always primarily target. Defence personnel, metropolitan youth, women. These all form the importnat yet much-neglected groups which the government, for its own benefit too, must not dismiss.
But for now, the OROP is a step in the right direction and Rahul Gandhi’s intervention in making this happen should not go unnoticed.