Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort could bring the much-awaited good news for millions of ex-servicemen across the country as he is expected to announce the adoption of One Rank, One Pension (OROP) for ex-servicemen.
Officials said the prime minister was also expected to focus heavily on rural development and employment opportunities, the twin issues on which his government had faced some criticism from the Opposition.
Modi had recently sought information from all ministries and departments on the progress made on the schemes announced by him, during last year's Independence Day speech. Senior government officials said the announcement on OROP for defence personnel might deal with concrete steps that the government might take in rolling out the programme in a time-bound manner. Various departments of the government are engaged in ironing out the kinks and working on the timetable of implementing the very ambitious, and prohibitively expensive, pension scheme.
The finance ministry is working on calculating the financial cost of the scheme. Officials admit it is easier said than done. While defence ministry officials have said that OROP could cost the government about Rs 8,000 crore per annum, finance ministry policymakers say the amount could be almost double, at around Rs 15,000 crore per annum.
"The PMO has made OROP a priority; there is a lot of work going into it. A few things would be taken into account once you start calculating how much it will cost the exchequer. Firstly, all pay commissions combined, there are way more retirees than serving personnel currently. And second, due to short service commission and greater life expectancy, we are having to pay pension for a good 50-55 years per person in some cases," an official from the finance ministry said.
A senior official from the rural development ministry said they have sent around 20-25 proposals to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), but it remains to be seen how many of them are included in the final speech. He said even though most of them are details of the progress made in the schemes announced last year, there could be some new ones as well. Officials said one announcement that could be made during the I-Day speech is the preparation of development plans for more than 600 villages under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. The programme was announced by Modi on Independence Day last year and envisaged the adoption of one village by each member of Parliament, both from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, for all-round development.
So far, according to official records, around 380 adopted villages have got their development plans made. "We have sent letters to all the district collectors and magistrates to expedite the programmes taken up by the MPs," the official said.
Modi in his first Independence Day address from the Red Fort last year, had announced a slew of new initiatives which included Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao for preventing female infanticide, Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana and also Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.