Until about a few years ago it would have been unthinkable for armed forces personnel — serving and retired — to voice dissent against the government, let alone stage mass protests and observe strikes. OROP – One Rank One Pension – is the issue that changed it all.
OROP promises that all military personnel retiring in the same rank after serving for an equal length of time shall be entitled for the same amount of pension (notwithstanding their date of retirement). The demand for OROP goes back almost a few decades and what was limited to murmurs and weak calls rose up as a major demand in 2015. On 6 September, 2015, the NaMo government announced the implementation of the OROP.
The government had held off the OROP implementation on the grounds that it would cause an additional strain of between INR 8,000-to-10,000 crore with the likelihood that this may increase in future. About 3 million ex-servicemen were covered by the OROP and the first (of four) instalment of about INR 500 crore was recently paid out. This has mollified many; but a great number of military personnel still remain dissatisfied as there was some disparity between their demands and the OROP as implemented by the government.
Suicide Over OROP
In what turned out to be the climax of the OROP struggle, Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal consumed poison and committed suicide in a statement of protest. The 70-year-old Army ex-serviceman from Bhiwani in Haryana served in the Territorial Army (TA) for about six years. Then, he was inducted into the Defence Security Corps (DSC) in which he served for about 24 years.
Grewal had been a passionate OROP crusader for some time now. He was involved quite a bit in the protests at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. He sent a letter to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, protesting the reduced pension that he had been receiving despite the implementation of the OROP. He also intended to submit a memorandum to the MOD. On Tuesday, 1 November, 2016, Subedar Grewal, however, drank poison and killed himself adding fuel to the protests.
According to news reports, Grewal, in his last phone call to his son Pradeep, is believed to have said, “I’m a man of principles. I couldn’t see this injustice happening with our jawans”. The audio clip of this phone call is just the spark that is required for OROP protesters to break out in anguish.
With the suicide of Subedar Grewal, high drama unfolded in the national capital with AAP and Congress leaders quick to join the fray of protesters and accused the BJP of poor governance.
Congress Vice President, Rahul Gandhi was detained by the Delhi Police as he tried to meet Grewal’s family at the RML Hospital. He was taken to the Mandir Marg police station and was detained for over an hour, before his eventual release. Later, Rahul Gandhi was detained for a second time and taken to an undisclosed police station, but was later released again. Rahul Gandhi was not the only one detained in relation to Grewal’s death. AAP leader and Delhi CM, Arvind Kejriwal, too, was detained by the police.
Another AAP leader Manish Sisodia was also taken into custody for trying to meet Grewal’s family members. Sisodia was kept at the Parliament Street Police Station for almost 10 hours. Some other Congress leaders were also detained. The action was taken due to the disruption caused by the political leaders at the hospital, said the police. Meanwhile AAP and INC protesters thronged the streets of Delhi and disrupted normal life through the evening hours on Wednesday, 2 November, 2016.
Many of the political parties in the opposition seem united in their criticism of the government for its delay in OROP implementation.
Subedar Ram Kishen Grewal’s death has, however, left a number of unanswered questions which call for a thorough investigation into the veteran’s death.
At the time of his retirement in 2004, Grewal had drawn a salary of INR 14,000. It means his starting pension would have been about INR 6500. Grewal was the recipient of the 6th pay commission and other interim hikes apart from the OROP. With this, his pension grew to about INR 23,000. This figure was only INR 5000 less than what was due to him. The anomaly was due to an error in bank computation and could have been easily resolved with a letter. Grewal’s suicide did not make sense, said many who sought a thorough investigation into the issue.
Grewal’s death also presents a paradox, many say. The veteran was a well-accomplished man. Following his retirement he was the Sarpanch of his village (Bamla village). His contribution to the development of his village was exemplary and therefore, he was awarded the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in 2008 by President Pratibha Patil. Such a strong progressive individual does not seem to be likely to resort to suicide to protest.
The Ministry of Defence did not issue an official statement with regard to the death of Subedar Grewal. The Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar, however, remained emphatic in his commitment to the welfare of veterans and ex-servicemen. He said that he had ordered an enquiry and would soon receive the complete details of Grewal’s suicide. He added that INR 5,507.47 crore has been disbursed under the OROP. 19,12,520 pensioners have already received the first instalment of the OROP dues and some 1,50,313 cases are pending due to delay in verification of the beneficiaries.