NEW DELHI: "After 15 months, there is still talk. This is unacceptable to the Armed Forces' family" - clear words from retired Major General Satbir Singh, one of organisers of the One Rank One Pension protests, which have been on at Jantar Mantar in Delhi for more than 60 days.
This morning, at Jantar Mantar, dozens of protesters sat patiently listening to every word of the Prime Minister's address to the nation on a big screen television. When Mr Modi did finally bring up the contentious issue only to say that the process of consultations was continued, a stunned silence here made way to a sense of outrage, a sense of disbelief that even now, after so many promises, the realisation of OROP would remain a dream.
Among the protesters here was 95-year-old Charu Sheela who was convinced that One Rank One Pension would finally happen - she felt it was her right. "My husband fought in the Second World War, in 1962, 1965 and 1971," she said, her quivering voice not disguising her anger.
For others, the time for OROP is now. A retired officer of the Indian Air Force said, "There have been talks for 43 years. I was a 30-year-old Squadron Leader when this OROP started and now I am 73 years old."
Leaders in the ex-servicemen community say they are set to continue their agitation. According to General Satbir Singh, "There are personnel willing to go on a fast unto death. We have now decided that we will no longer stop them."
Meant to ensure that there is parity in pensions between those retiring now and those who retired earlier with the same rank, OROP directly impacts 2 million ex-servicemen and women and 6.45 lakh widows of soldiers.
The genesis of the crisis goes back all the way to 1973 when the 3rd Pay Commission decided to equate the pensions of armed forces personnel with their civilian counterparts. In the process, officers and men who got 75 per cent of their last pay as pension started receiving 50 per cent while civilian government officials saw a jump from 33 per cent to 50 per cent in their pension. Another anomaly crept in in when the government merged basic pay and dearness allowance for those retiring after 1979. In the process, a disparity emerged between those retiring before 1979 and those who retired after 1979. The situation became even worse when the 6th Pay Commission widened the disparity between personnel who retired before 2006 and those who retired post January 1, 2006.
In the absence of a clarification from the government, there is intense speculation on just how much the government would need to shell out to meet the new pension requirements. Some say it would cost the government Rs. 8230 crore while other estimates peg it at Rs.25000 crore every year, a whopping pension pay-out even if it is a fraction of India's growing GDP.
What is, however, indisputable is that if OROP is implemented at 2014 levels, retired officers, jawans and widows would gain substantially. For example, according to draft Defence Ministry data, a Major's pension would go up from Rs. 14,100 per month to more than Rs. 32000 rupees. A Havildar presently earning Rs. 4498 as pension would see it rise to Rs.9625 a month. And the widow of a Subedar Major would, for example, see her pension jumping from Rs. 4830 to Rs. 9612.
In the process, the gap between serving and retired personnel would be substantially closed, a decision the government will now need to clear.