On Monday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley completely ruled out the annual revision of pension as demanded by agitating ex-servicemen.
Annual revision in pensions do not happen anywhere in the world, said Jaitley. But he did say that the government will safeguard interests of soldiers retiring at an early age through higher pensions. He also said that the government was committed to OROP but the “only difficulty” was the “arithmetical translation”.
“I have my own formula on what OROP means. Somebody else may have their own formula on OROP but it has to be within reasonable and rational criteria. You can’t have an OROP where pensions are revised every month or every year,” said Jaitley.
“We accept the principle (of OROP). We will implement the principle but then let us not create incidence which are going to set (precedent for) other segments of the society to also start demanding (the same),” he added.
Jaitley spoke about how he also has to keep a check on the country’s fiscal deficits.
“I have been very vigilant about fiscal prudence and therefore my job is really that of a housewife in the sense that you must measure every rupee that the house spends so that you don’t overspend and then borrow and if you start borrowing beyond a point and indulge in fiscal indiscipline,” Jaitley told ET NOW.
On the sticking point of an annual increase in the pension, Jaitley said, “we would like to safeguard the interest of those soldiers who retire at age of 35 or 38 years and the society must protect them… and therefore some higher pension on a special formulation is understandable but then it can’t be revised every year.”
Jaitley made it extremely clear that the government will not make “unreasonable concessions” merely on emotions, which can set a precedent for others to seek similar benefits.
The ex-servicemen have been protesting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, staging an indefinite fast, for the early implementation of OROP.
There have been several rounds of talks between the government and the protesting veterans but all of those have failed.
In calculating OROP, the veterans want the base year to be 2013-14 and that the payment should begin from April 1, 2014. They don’t want OROP to be left to the 7th Pay Commission.
On the other hand, the government wants 2011 to be the base year and do not agree to an increase of three per cent every year. It also wants payment to begin from April 1, 2015, which has been rejected by the veterans.
About 8 ex-servicemen are on a fast unto death. In fact, many of them had to be shifted to the hospital after their health deteriorated.
Apart from those on fast-unto-death, the group of ex-servicemen have been observing a relay hunger strike for over 78 days over the delay in implementation of OROP. As a mark of solidarity, some families of the ex-servicemen have also joined them on the hunger strike.
Close to 22 lakh retired servicemen and over six lakh war widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme, which envisages a uniform pension for the defence personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Currently, the pension for retired personnel is based on the Pay Commission recommendations of the time when they retired. So, in effect, a Major General who retired in 1996 draws less pension than a Lieutenant Colonel who retired after 1996.
(With inputs from PTI)