Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to address the grievances of the defence forces concerning their pay and to reverse the recent decisions of the government regarding the disability pension that has "adversely" affected the "morale of our armed forces".
"Just days after our soldiers conducted the surgical strikes, the disability pension system was converted to a new slab system, that in many instances drastically reduces the pension received by these brave men in case of a disability," the Congress leader wrote in his letter. He was referring to a recommendation by the defence ministry for implementing the 7th Pay Commission's slab based system for determining pensions as against the current percentage-based method.
Defence personnel are opposed to the slab system, which determines pension on the basis of a three fixed rates rather than on the basis of percentage of pay. The pay commission also steeply slashed the pension rates across all ranks. These have led to a discrepancy in the pension between a defence personnel and his civilian counterpart.
The Congress vice president also urged PM Modi to implement the "One Rank, One Pension" (OROP) scheme, which calls for parity in pension for defence personnel holding the same rank, for same length of service, irrespective of the year they retired. OROP was accepted by the government in 2014, but has not been fully implemented so far.
"OROP must be implemented in a meaningful way to satisfy ex-servicemen, and the anomalies in the 7th Pay Commission must be addressed at the earliest, because soldiers should not have to struggle to claim what is surely due to them on behalf of a grateful nation," Gandhi said.
Steps should be taken to send a message to soldiers on Diwali expressing "our gratitude both in words and in deed", Rahul said in his letter to the PM. Modi launched a "#Sandesh2Soldiers" campaign, through which people can send their Diwali greetings and messages to soldiers guarding the nation's borders. People can send messages on the Narendra Modi App, through MyGov.in, and also through All India Radio.
"As a responsible democracy we must make sure that the brave soldiers who put their lives on the line for each one of us, feel the love, support and gratitude of 125 crore people," Rahul said.
The Congress scion says the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission, which came into effect, from January 1, 2016, continue to keep the defence forces at a disadvantage, further exacerbating the disparity between them and civil employees.
The 7th Pay Commission has recommended a similar pay structure at the entry level for both civilian and military services, which is not acceptable to the armed forces.
"I therefore urge you Prime Minister to ensure that our soldiers get their due whether it is regarding compensation, disability pension, or parity with civil employees," he said.
PM Modi had earlier accused the Congress of not taking the OROP issue seriously by earmarking a mere Rs 500 crore for the scheme.
He will celebrate this Diwali with personnel of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) at a remote border post in the state of Uttarakhand, PTI reported.
Don't subject army to 'petty politics': Government to Rahul
The government on Saturday dismissed Rahul Gandhi's accusations about the One Rank One Pay (OROP) and the disability pension, with Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asking him not to subject the army to "petty politics for partisan gains".
Prasad said equivalence has been in force since 1998-99 and "no new policy initiative undertaken taken by the Narendra Modi government in this regard".
He said that as far as pension payment on slab system is concerned, it was a recommendation of the Pay Review Committee which the government had not accepted and the percentage system of calculating pension would continue till the anomaly commitee gave its recommendations.
"The government has referred this issue to the anomaly committee. Till the time the anomaly committee gives a recommendation, the payment of pension on percentage basis shall continue," Prasad said.
Government reverses recommendation on disability pension
The same day that Rahul Gandhi shot off his letter to PM Modi, the defence ministry said armed forces personnel would continue to get such pension based on percentage system till the Anomaly Committee came out with its report, PTI reported.
A letter issued by the ministry on September 30, introducing the slab-based system recommended by the 7th Pay Commission, was widely criticised by opposition parties and the military.
Following this, the Ministry had referred the matter to the Anomaly Committee. A percentage-based system for calculating disability pension for both defence personnel as well as civilians has been followed as per the 6th Pay Commission recommendations.