New Delhi: As a third soldier joined his two colleagues on a fast-unto-death demanding One Rank One Pension (OROP) on Tuesday, a worried government reached out to the ex-servicemen and urged them to end the hunger strike.
And on the 65th day of the agitation on Tuesday, Delhi Police issued a formal apology for forcibly ending the ex-servicemen's protest in the city centre a day before Independence Day.
It was the second day of an indefinite hunger strike by retired Colonel Pushpender Singh and former Havildar Major Singh when they were joined by another retired Havildar, Ashok Chauhan.
"When the government said it will implement OROP, why are they delaying it?" asked Pushpender Singh.
On Tuesday, Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, Nripendra Misra, met the veterans and urged them to call off the fast and to restore normalcy.
"We told him that if there is a concrete assurance (on OROP's implementation), we will stop it," retired Lt. Gen. Balbir Singh, president of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement, said.
Maj. Gen. Satbir Singh, who too was at the meeting, said: "We have sought an assured date for the implementation of OROP. It should be effective from April 1, 2014 as decided by the government."
When the official could not give the commitment, the Indian United Ex-Servicemen Front decided to go ahead with the fast.
"The fast unto death will continue. We will decide on our next move after August 23-24," Front spokesman Anil Kaul told IANS.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Sunday urged the ex-servicemen to wait till August 24 as he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But the veterans, agitated over the August 14 police action and disappointed with the prime minister's Independence Day speech, decided to launch the protest fast.
Delhi Police apologised for its action against the ex-servicemen at Jantar Mantar and promised to "rectify" its mistake.
After meeting the retired soldiers, Joint Commissioner of Police Mukesh Kumar Meena told the media: "We respect the veterans." He spoke in the company of the protesters.
"What happened on August 14 was due to some confusion and misunderstanding. We are with you. We will try to rectify our mistakes," Meena said. "We did not intend to hurt anyone."
On Friday, police tried to forcefully evict the protesting ex-servicemen, leading to scuffles.
The home ministry intervened after an uproar and told the ex-servicemen that they would not be asked to leave the protest venue.
Around 24 lakh retired soldiers and some 6.5 lakh widows will benefit if OROP is implemented.
Currently, the pension for retired personnel is based on the Pay Commission recommendations of the time when he or she retired. So, a major general who retired in 1996 draws a lower pension than a Lt. Colonel who retired later.