India is continuously strengthening its defence weaponry but is equally mindful of the welfare of its defence personnel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday as he celebrated Diwali with army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel at a border outpost in Uttarakhand close to the China border.
“We are continuously shoring up our defences, be it the army, navy or air force. We are also ensuring that our ever watchful and dedicated soldiers lead a good life even after retirement,” PM Modi said at Harsil, around 45 km from the India-China border.
Reiterating how India had achieved the expertise to fire nuclear weapons from land, air and sea, following a successful completion by a deterrence patrol by submarine INS Arihant, he said all efforts were also being made to drive out darkness from the lives of the soldiers who ensure that the people of the country live fearlessly by guarding its borders, “spending their days and nights in inhospitable conditions”.
Referring to retired defence personnel’s demand for One Rank One Pension (OROP), the prime minister said it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government which resolved the 45-year old demand. “I first heard about it from retired army personnel during my sojourn in Himachal Pradesh long back,” he said adding that as soon as he became the prime minister, he immediately ensured that the OROP issue was resolved.
“The previous dispensation had set aside a budget of Rs 500 crore assuming that they would resolve the issue, using that peanuts amount after they return to power again,” Modi said, in a veiled attack on the United Progressive Alliance regime. The BJP government, however, discovered that the amount was grossly inadequate.
“We discovered that conceding that demand actually meant paying the retired army personnel their long-pending arrears worth Rs 12,000 crore,” Modi said adding that the OROP issue was nonetheless resolved. “Out of the total pending arrears, an amount of Rs 11,000 crore has already been paid to the retired army personnel.”
He said he would frequently interact with army and Border Security Force during his tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat. “I would rush to the (Pakistan) border to spend Diwali with our army and BSF jawans,” Modi said.
Recalling his association with ITBP, he said it went back to the early 1980s when the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra resumed. “I was also a part of the pilgrimage the year when it was resumed,” Modi said and recalled how ITBP men would render assistance to pilgrims, even carrying them on their shoulders while negotiating tough hill terrain.
“Whenever it was required, ITBP soldiers would also carry pilgrims’ luggage on their shoulders,” he said. “They (ITBP men) would pitch in to help pilgrims in distress despite the fact that it was not their job.”
Prime Minister Modi earlier visited Kedarnath where he was received by chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat and other BJP leaders. After he performed puja at the shrine to Lord Shiva, he visited a gallery to see photographs of the reconstruction works. Later, he was also shown a related documentary before he undertook a spot visit to the site to check all the work personally. The prime minister did not speak to the media.
It was Modi’s third visit to Kedarnath in the past one and a half years. He had laid the foundation stones of five schemes for the Kedarpuri reconstruction project last October, four years after the shrine town was struck by the calamitous foods in which thousands of people were killed.
Naresh Bansal, the general secretary of the BJP’s Uttarakhand unit, said the Prime Minister frequently visits the shrine town to personally monitor the reconstruction because it happened to be his pet project. “Kedarnath is the centre of faith for lakhs of devotees who visit there annually… It will help attract many more once the reconstruction project is completed,” he said.
First Published: Nov 07, 2018 21:48 IST