Since I cover issues pertaining to security and conflict, I’ve also had the opportunity to report on One Rank One Pension (OROP).
On September 5, I was present in Room 129 D of the South Block where defence minister Manohar Parrikar made the announcement on OROP. Many of my colleagues incorrectly referred to this event as a press conference. I am sure you’d appreciate that when no questions or clarifications are allowed, the event becomes an announcement.
Why was such a stance adopted for such an occasion, I still ponder.
This brings me to the heart of the issue I’d like to raise.
Unlike matters of operations, acquisitions or investigations where details are best withheld till a suitable time is arrived at, OROP is an issue where maximum transparency could and should be demonstrated.
But this has hardly been observed.
Be it when multiple well-wishers of your government were talking to the protesting veterans (seven names were made public) for a solution or when the defence minister, flanked by the service chiefs, defence secretary and his junior minister, simply walked out after reading a prepared statement. So many queries arose seeing this. Yet, doubts were met with not one clarification. In fact, even among several serving defence personnel the feeling is that the “way OROP was handled” could’ve been much better.
Doubts also persist because the order for implementation of OROP – the original aim of the protest – has still not materialised. The issue of “voluntary retirement” which found a way into the announcement by Parrikar led to immense anger, notwithstanding your words later. All this has ensured that whenever your government issues the order, it will be read it with a doubt in mind and a magnifying glass in hand.
I am sure you did not desire such a bitter state.
Mr Modi, when it was announced that the government will revise thepensions of our veterans once in five years and not one, as they demanded, was it not important that your government told us why? I could, in fact, ask the same for the slew of anomalies which have emerged where you felt no explanation was necessary.
May I also add that seeking clarifications isn’t the same as rejecting arguments.
Is the problem in granting them OROP, the way they have been asking for, a financial one or an administrative one or a political one? I must say you’ve allowed doubts to creep in. Former army chief Gen NC Vij, whom I met on the evening of September 5 said it, “If there was an issue with the finances or anything else, I would expect our government to be open to the veterans and talk. They are patriots, not unreasonable agitators.”
I distinctly recall your words before you took over as the prime minister. You said, “Politicians should learn to say ‘no’ and bureaucrats should learn to say ‘yes’.” Was it your turn to say “no” or your bureaucrats who should’ve said “yes”?
Allow me to put on record a belief that many hold, not without merit. For those joining the government post 2004, pensions have become contributory in nature which means the government has less liability. This includes officers from services like Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and even those from Central Armed Police Force (CAPF). In comparison, government is continuing the old pension scheme only for the army, navy and air force. Is that not showing respect and granting a special place? I think it is. Is the economy free of all the encumbrances for you to give in to whatever it asked for? No, it isn’t.
While the general perception, thanks to your superb oratory and the might of the government propaganda, is that the entire OROP issue is settled, the veterans are still protesting. They just held a massive rally on Saturday to buttress their point. On asking they point to what they believe are major anomalies.
Your government has taken an important step. Your government has a former army chief and a celebrated colonel as ministers and yet this dichotomy!
Before things implode then, can we have a frank talk?