Rahul seeks to take credit for nod to ‘one rank, one pension’

New Delhi, Feb 17: With Lok Sabha elections barely months away, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Monday sought to take credit for the UPA government’s acceptance of the long-pending “one rank, one pension” demand of ex-servicemen.

The party is also hoping to earn goodwill of families of about 24 lakh ex-servicemen spread across different parts of the country by fulfilling the demand.

Hours after Finance Minister P. Chidambaram made the announcement in the interim budget for 2014-15, Gandhi called media persons to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s residence and described the decision “as a historical step”.

“They (the soldiers) guard our borders. It is our duty to help them fully. I thank the government, the prime minister, and the Congress president for the historical step,” he said.

The Congress vice president, who has met delegations of ex-servicemen, said it was the government’s duty to work for welfare of defence personnel.

The ex-servicemen department of the party was also quick to hail the decision.

“Ex-servicemen throughout the country are extremely happy with the announcement of OROP,” said Maj.(retd) Ved Prakash, who heads the department.

The interim budget also provided “adequate funds” for the ministries running the flagship programmes of United Progressive Alliance government in line with the party leadership’s emphasis on inclusive development to help the poor.

The flagship programmes include Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Development Act, the National Rural Health Mission, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and Rajiv Awas Yojana apart from programmes related to rural road connectivity, irrigation, power and drinking water.

With the interim budget also proposing to lower excise duty on a host of items of daily consumption from 12 percent to 10 percent, Congress sources said the decisions will benefit the poor and middle classes and help counter criticism faced by the party on price rise.

While Rahul Gandhi talked of OROP, the Congress organised a special briefing at his office here to highlight other main points of the interim budget.

Bhalchandra Mungerkar, an economist and Congress MP, said that over 14 crore people had been brought out of poverty by the UPA government and the average growth rate during the 10 year period was the highest compared to any such period earlier.

Congress leaders said there were measures in the interim budget aimed at benefiting farmers, students and women as also minorities.

IANS