Finance Minister, babus biggest hurdles in OROP: Gen Satbir Singh

Image: Sapan Kapoor, NewsGram

New Delhi: Major General (retd) Satbir Singh, the torchbearer of the ‘One-Rank, One Pension’ (OROP) agitation, has accused Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the bureaucracy of “deliberately” stalling their legitimate demands, warning that anger is building up in both retired and serving soldiers which should not happen in any country.

In an interview to NewsGram at Jantar Mantar, Major General (retd) Singh called upon the government to reach out to them and fulfill their genuine demands else “we will be compelled to go to the 125 crore people of India for justice.”

His comments come in the wake of the news from Ludhiana where four ex-servicemen climbed on top of a water tank on Friday and threatened to commit suicide by jumping off it if their demands regarding the OROP issue were not met.

“That should not happen. But for the past six months, no one from the government has come to us. We are only going to them. It is a pity that the government is talking to terrorists but not to soldiers. Since September 5, I have written four letters to the defense minister and four to PM and a letter to the PM was written by 60 Generals signed with their blood. But, the PM never replied. What to talk of calling us? He is the same PM candidate who wanted 31 Generals to be on the stage during a public rally in Rewadi, Haryana and I was one of them along with former army chief V K Singh.

He (Modi) had that time said ‘mai sabhi faujyo ko naman karta hun’ and that he would grant it. Modi had said if the government was in power in 2004, the OROP issue would not have been there. And then he talked at various places after becoming PM, he even got it included as a priority action of the Supreme Commander, but no action was taken. He spoke on the INS Vikramaditya; at Siachin in front of the COAS he promised that it was in his destiny to grant OROP. On Diwali last year, he said he would grant OROP. Where’s it? What has been notified is not OROP; it’s a lie, Singh said.

Satbir SinghThe veteran said they were not looking for money but honor, dignity, and respect.

“We, the leaders of the OROP movement, have so far been able to keep the veterans to peace. Our protest has been totally dignified and we would like it to be dignified.  But the rank and file, means jawans and widows, are getting restless. Not only they are getting restless, we hear that their own kith and kin, who are serving in the armed forces, when they come back to homes on leave, they find their elders being ill-treated, mistreated, and downgraded. So they are feeling anguished and this is what should not happen in a nation called ‘Bharat’,” Singh told NewsGram.

He said the government has been requested to give the veterans only what has been sanctioned and promised.

“Please implement it in letter and spirit of the definition of OROP which has been approved by the two parliaments – UPA as well as NDA. We, however, feel that the bureaucracy and political establishment are together to give us a feeling that the government has no intention to give actual OROP which the PM candidate and now PM, had assured us a number of times.

“Alas, we misunderstood. We had total faith in him. We thought they would give us OROP. Unfortunately, the one that has been notified on November 7, in fact, kills the very definition which has been approved by two parliaments – by them as well as UPA. This is what has given us anguish and anger. The anger is building here. Aakrosh rally at Jantar Mantar on December 13 is to express our anguish, for in the past six months no one from the government has come to listen to our grievances. We only have been going and requesting, but that also stopped on September 5.”

Singh said that on during a meeting with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on December 1 it was decided to have former Army chief and Union Minister V K Singh. However, the minster has not been issued an official notification in this regard.

“Singh left Delhi on December 4 and I understand no notification has been issued to him. We find that he has been the COAS, he himself has dealt with one of the provisions of OROP. We want him to be objective, not subjective. He is totally acceptable to us, but the government has not yet issued orders detailing him to be our mediator. Therefore, he has not taken any initiative so far to even contact us.”

“Therefore, we are going ahead with our Aakrosh rally on December 13. It will be peaceful and dignified. But if the government wants to engineer something like they did on August 14 by putting police against us that will be unfortunate.”

The veterans want the government to carry out amendments to the notification of the seventh immediately, removing all seven shortcomings which were pointed out to them and execute the OROP as per the approved definition by the two Parliaments.

“We do not want or will accept even comma or full stop change therein. Their ‘OROP’ is not OROP. The Rs 8300 crore model the defense minister himself has worked out and sent to the finance ministry is acceptable to us and also to three service headquarters. Why should it not be implemented?

“Now we learn the only hurdle is the Finance Minister and the finance ministry babus; they’re the ones who do not want the defense forces to be given their dues. They have brought in so many obnoxious, imaginary issues and now they have intentionally got the seventh pay commission report submitted during this period and that too is totally against defense forces. And to cause further problems to OROP, they have recommended it for everybody, all services.”

Look at it, the veteran said, earlier they couldn’t Rs 8000 crores and now they will afford 1,000 crores and they’re saying there is no issue of money. They – the civilians – serve till 60 years, the jawans retire at 35. The veterans have been given OROP because of one single factor that they retire at the age of 35 and die 20 years earlier than civilians.

“Our conditions are entirely different. How can you treat a police constable as an ex-serviceman? He’s a constable retired and there’s a sipahi retired. Slowly they took our uniforms and now they’re taking our ranks. These ranks are exclusive to armed forces. No one has the right to take it from us. We would like to get their original uniforms and our uniforms must be separate and exclusive. Our colors of the vehicles must be separate. All others are CPOs (Central Police Organization).”

There’s a khichdi between politicians and bureaucracy. Now here’s a very important thing for the nation that is they want to nose down the civil-military relations, he alleged. As per the constitution, the armed forces are required to work under the elected representatives of the people that is the Parliament. But from Nehru onwards he did not want the military and he said so that the country did not need the military that the police and bureaucracy would suffice. They have slowly engineered the Fauj to work under bureaucracy. Now instead of being under the government, all orders are being passed from bureaucracy to the Fauj.

The security of India should be the responsibility of the three chiefs and the Civil Defence Services (CDS). It is not so, Singh claimed, for the government has bestowed it upon the defense secretary who has never served in the defense forces. Nowhere has it happened in the whole world. The three chiefs who were supposed to be the part of the decision making process are not even called. So the MoD must be reorganized which was the first recommendation of the Subrahmanyam committee after the Kargil war which suggested that the MoD must be staffed by the serving and retired defense personnel to the tune of initially 60: 40 ratio and subsequently brought up to 75-25. The CDS should have come in 1999, but the political leadership does not want it.

“Whether the finance ministry or bureaucracies also have the ears of PM I don’t know,” Singh said.

The veterans supported and believed the ‘nationalist’ BJP. The party supported their demands. One of them was the establishment of the ex-serviceman commission to be headed and manned by ex-servicemen, he said.

“But it is nowhere to be seen after 18 months. They assured us and included in the speech of the Supreme Commander three things – establishment of ex-serviceman commission, martyrs memorial at India Gate, and OROP. All three of them have not been fulfilled because of the bureaucracy… Our bottom line is that the OROP is only one of the sectioned schemes. We want restoration of our status in all respects of what existed on 26 January 1950.”

He alleged the government had started propaganda against the protesting veterans, accusing the Defence Minister of establishing a department specifically for this purpose.

“They said I’m using Gurudwaras and as if I want to be CM of the Punjab and fight elections. This is unfortunate,” the OROP torchbearer concluded.