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Thursday, May 7, 2015
‘One Rank- One Pension’ Still Stuck in Bureaucratic Maze
India’s 2.5 million plus military veterans are both anxious and angry. For over a decade they have been told they will be granted the ‘One Rank One Pension,’ scheme meant to ensure that a uniform pension is paid to all defence personnel who retire at the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Rank Injustice
Throughout the UPA I and II, the government simply ignored their demand thanks to its proclivity to go with the advice of the civilian bureaucrats who opposed the scheme tooth and nail. However, towards the fag end of the Manmohan Singh government it was agreed in principle to clear the scheme, keeping the bulk votes that the ex-servicemen bring in. The last-minute ruse did not work for the UPA though.
Realising the importance of correcting the wrong, the Narendra Modi government and the prime minister himself gave renewed hope to the veterans by announcing the implementation of the OROP scheme “as soon as possible.” That promise is now nearly a year old and if several associations of military veterans are to be believed, the government is nowhere near putting the money where the mouth is.
For months, the file for OROP is shuttling between the defence and the finance ministries over minor issues. Initially, officials of two ministries differed on the amount required to fulfil the demand. The finance ministry cited a Supreme Court observation in a case filed by a veteran to raise further queries.
Once those queries were answered satisfactorily, it was believed that all hurdles were cleared. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has taken a personal interest in the matter, in fact told this writer on April 10:
All hurdles, including a political clearance on the scheme’s financial implications, have been removed. Now the actual calculation and administrative details are being worked out. We are sure to get the scheme rolling in the next few weeks.
-Manohar Parrikar, Defence Minister
Admitting that there is huge scepticism over the OROP scheme implementation, Parrikar said: “This time we have ensured that nothing goes wrong.” At that time he had refused to put a timeline, clearly aware of the bureaucratic nitty-gritty that often trips all grand schemes.
Red Tape Hurdles for OROP Scheme
During the last three weeks, the file has shuttled at least thrice between South and North Block (the building that houses the defence and finance ministries, respectively). Each time the finance ministry has raised a query, the defence ministry has worked on war footing to satisfy the finicky finance ministry babus.
Defence ministry officials and ‘pay cells’ in the three service HQs now say the final calculations are being worked out and that Modi will himself announce the rollout of the scheme before the NDA government completes one year in office on May 26.
Once finally cleared, the move is likely to cost somewhere between Rs 7,500 and Rs 10,000 crore annually. Military veterans are keeping their fingers crossed. They have experienced many a slip between the cup and the lip in the past. But more than their disappointment, it is Modi’s promise that is at stake here. The question is: how close is the government to find a final solution to this long drawn issue?
(Nitin A. Gokhale is an analyst on National Security, Media Trainer and Author)