Defence Personnel | Pension Payback

When havildar Ranbir Singh, 54, retired from the air defence artillery regiment in 2001 after 17 years of service, he got a monthly pension of Rs 1,700. The meagre amount forced the ex-serviceman with a family of six to set up a shop selling auto lubricants near his village in UP’s Mainpuri district. One Rank One Pension (OROP)­or paying uniform pension to armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of their date of retirementannounced by the government in 2015, hiked his monthly pension by Rs 6,000. Singh takes home Rs 21,000 a month currently. It is the best thing any government could have done for defence pensioners, he says.

The NDA’s pension hike has been one of its biggest moves in the defence ministry, directly benefitting nearly 1.8 million war widows and ex-servicemen. Retiring soldiers like Singh make up over 80 per cent of personnel who stand to gain from OROP.

Interim finance minister Piyush Goyal’s budget speech remark of the defence budget crossing Rs 3 lakh crore for the first time may have been a bit of hyperbole (it was one of the smallest-ever def­ence budget hikes, just 3.3 per cent over last year’s Rs 2.8 lakh crore). He was closer to the truth when he took credit for OROP, approved by the government in November 2015.

The BJP’s 2014 election manifesto had promised to grant OROP. Although it took street protests by ex-servicemen to get the government to finally act on its promise in 2015, its implementation has spread cheer among ex-servicemen.

In recent rallies in north India, the lar­gest catchment area of ex-servicemen, Prime Minister Modi has constantly reminded people of the OROP scheme his government has passed. Budget planners frown on pension schemes like OROP because of its heavy financial implications on the revenue budget but also because of its long-term commitmentfuture enhancements in pension rates would automatically be passed on to past pensioners to bridge the gap between rates. In the past, governments had rejected the move for one obvious reason. India already spends over Rs 1 lakh crore on its defence pensioners, nea­rly twice Pakistan’s entire military budget. OROP will not only add up to Rs 10,000 crore in each defence budget, the burden will increase as the rates are revised every five years.


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