Soldiers and military veterans angry about pay and pensions

Soldiers toss their rifles during the Indian Air Force Day celebrations at the Hindon Air Force Station on the outskirts of New Delhi. India celebrated its 84th Air Force Day on Oct 8.
Soldiers toss their rifles during the Indian Air Force Day celebrations at the Hindon Air Force Station on the outskirts of New Delhi. India celebrated its 84th Air Force Day on Oct 8.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI • India's government, already grappling with a furore over a rupee crisis, is under fire over its treatment of the country's soldiers.

At issue is whether retired personnel receive the same pension based on rank and years of service - currently, veterans can find themselves receiving less simply because they retired before a pay revision took place.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed in April to standardise pensions but has yet to resolve the matter.

Opposition parties criticised Mr Modi after the death this month in New Delhi of a veteran from the voluntary reserve force. Mr R. K. Grewal's son, Pradeep, told India Today that his father called him just before he died, to say he was forced to take his own life as he had not received the pension promised him.

Heading towards key state polls early next year, Mr Modi now needs to placate the military, on top of hosing down the uproar after his currency overhaul sparked chaos in a nation where 98 per cent of all consumer payments are made in cash.

Addressing the concerns of soldiers quickly is important, given the size of the army - 1.4 million serving personnel and 2.06 million veterans.

The states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur are home to close to 800,000 veterans' families, making the resolution of the "One Rank, One Pension" issue vital for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's chances in state elections.

"Veterans have, in the past, particularly during the 2014 parliamentary elections, influenced the outcome in favour of the ruling BJP in around 150 constituencies," said Major-General Satbir Singh of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement. "Veterans form a massive voter base in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab, and they will, this time, impact the results of nearly half the number of seats in these states."

For the past two years, veterans have rallied in Delhi over the issue, which has festered since 1973 when the rules regarding pensions for retired personnel were changed, resulting in lower payouts. Successive governments pledged to implement "One Rank, One Pension" for veterans but did not follow through.

Last week, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told Parliament 1.3 million defence and family pensioners had yet to receive equal benefits.

It is not just retired personnel who are disgruntled with Mr Modi, who rode to power in 2014 promising to protect the military and improve pay and pensions. Serving officers are unhappy with pay structures implemented earlier this year.

The government has promised to rectify the anomalies.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline 'Soldiers and military veterans angry about pay and pensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe