New Delhi: Ram Kishen Grewal ate poison because he hadn't been given the money he was owed as a former soldier.
- Army veteran killed himself on Tuesday, was owed money
- OROP (new pension scheme) entitled him to Rs 3,000 more per month
- Bank allegedly did not release the difference
His death - over the One Rank One Pension scheme (OROP) - has inflamed political gamesmanship over an issue central to soldiers- what they're due when they retire.
Subedar Grewal, from a village in Haryana, served in the army for 30 years. Till Prime Minister Narendra Modi sanctioned OROP about a year ago, he was getting about Rs 25,500 per month as his pension. But once the government agreed that soldiers who have served at the same rank and for the same amount of time should get equal pensions, regardless of the year in which they retired, the Subedar was entitled to an additional Rs 3,000 per month.
But neither the new amount was released nor were the arrears or the difference that was owed retrospectively to him since OROP was cleared.
Frustrated, Subedar Grewal, 70, killed himself in Delhi on Tuesday. The government has said it had not held back his pension, but that the bank authorized for the pay-out had messed up.
For over a year, army veterans and widows, some of whom are more than 90 years old, have held a sit-in at the heart of Delhi, claiming that the government's OROP program falls short on several fronts. Prime on this list is that OROP plans to reconcile the rate of payments of current and past pensioners every five years; ex-servicemen say this must happen every year. They also object to the exclusion from the scheme of personnel who voluntarily retired, while the government says those who opted out (took "premature retirement") are not entitled to the increased pensions. Veterans also want the new and higher amounts to be paid with April 1, 2014 as the start date. The government says the arrears will be effective from July 2014 instead.
The Defence Ministry insists that everything is being done to ensure that pension payouts are happening promptly and sources have told NDTV that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has personally helped resolve 500 cases where claims were disputed. Government sources point out that of about 21 lakh pensioners, just a lakh are still owed money, while 6,000 crores have been paid already.
While ex-soldiers have objected staunchly to politicians encircling the Subedar's case for petty point-scoring (the Congress, for example, did not clear OROP while it was in power), they say that the state-run banks that are authorized to make payments often slow down the process. There are groups of veterans who are available to help in these cases, they say.