Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said that Rs 5,500 crore has been paid for implementing the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme, an issue that has been hanging fire for the last 40 years, as he celebrated Diwali with army and ITBP men in Sumdo in Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur district.
Dedicating this Diwali to the armed forces personnel the Prime Minister lauded the valour and sacrifice of the armed forces amid tension on the border with Pakistan.
He said he has "fulfilled the promise" he made to ex-servicemen on the one-rank-one-pension scheme.
Modi said the issue had been pending for "40 years" as certain people in the previous governments "did not know" about OROP, and therefore "only Rs 500 crore was allocated" for the purpose.
He also said many people thought that if the scheme was not implemented, a section of "ex-servicemen would turn against the government".
"Spent time with our courageous @ITBP_official & Army Jawans at Sumdo, Kinnaur district, Himachal Pradesh. Jai Jawan! Jai Hind!," he tweeted.
Earlier, in his monthly "Mann ki Baat" programme on All India Radio, Modi asked the people and the state governments to find ways of forging unity across the country and work to defeat separatist tendencies and mentalities.
He hailed the people including celebrities for sending overwhelming messages to his "Sandesh2Soldiers" campaign.
In the wake of ongoing unrest in Kashmir Valley, he said, "Unity in diversity is our strength. It is the responsibility of every citizen and all governments to forge unity and curb separatist tendencies to save the country."
In an apparent reference to tension on the Indo-Pak border, Modi credited the soldiers for maintenance of peace and security in the country and called upon everyone to remember their gallantry while celebrating Diwali.
"In the wake of recent events, our soldiers have been sacrificing their everything for the safety and security of the country. Their dedication and labour has overwhelmed me completely. Let us dedicate this Diwali to our armed forces.
"I had invited everyone to participate in the Sandesh2Soldiers campaign and I have been humbled by the response. From students, villagers and traders to political leaders and sportspersons, everyone has sent a Diwali message for our soldiers," he said while referring to the jawans who are stationed in deserts and on the icy heights of the Himalayas and security personnel who are guarding our industries and airports.
In a veiled reference to the unrest in Kashmir Valley, the Prime Minister also called for forces of unity to be strengthened and those of separatism to be defeated.
"Unity in diversity is the strength of our country. Every citizen and every government must work to find ways of forging unity and defeating separatist mindset and tendencies," he said as he remembered Sardar Patel who strived hard to forge unity in the country and bind it together.
The Prime Minister, while on his way back from Sumdo, met civilians at Himachal's Chango village, close to the Sino-Indian border. He exchanged greetings, interacted with the people there, and offered sweets to children.
"Made unscheduled stop at Chango village, close to Somdu, to wish people on Diwali. Was deeply touched by the impromptu reception & their joy," Modi tweeted.
"The Prime Minister spent time with ITBP jawans and personnel of Dogra Scouts of army at Sumdo on border of Kinnaur and Spiti, and distributed sweets to them," an official said.
Modi also met personnel of the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF), a branch of Border Roads Organisation (BRO), entrusted with construction and maintenance of border roads and also executing the Rohtang Tunnel project, the official said.
After coming in power in 2014, the Prime Minister had celebrated his first Diwali with soldiers posted in Siachen, and in 2015, he celebrated it at the India-Pakistan border in Punjab.
On the OROP issue Modi said, "The OROP was not about just Rs 200 crore or Rs 500 crore, but Rs 10,000 crore... After I became the PM, and decided that I had to do (implement) it, the entire government lost sleep over it... It was not possible for the government to pay in one go, so I requested the ex-servicemen to accept it in four instalments.
"The money will reach them in four installments. Nearly, Rs 5,500 crore has been paid as the first installment," Modi said.
He said implementation of OROP was his "dream", which has been "fulfilled".
Rahul Gandhi had yesterday questioned the Modi government's resolve to work for soldiers' welfare, asking the Prime Minister to first implement OROP in a meaningful way and redress their pay anomalies and other grievances.
The Congress Vice President had written to Modi saying he was saddened at the decisions of the government taken in the last few weeks "which are far from reassuring the soldiers and has caused them pain instead".
Chief of Army Staff Gen. Dalbir Singh was present on the occasion.