New Delhi: Police on Friday evicted ex-servicemen who were protesting in the heart of the capital seeking one rank one pension (OROP) but later allowed them to continue with the protest.
In a crackdown apparently linked to Saturday's Independence Day celebrations, police and civic employees swooped on the protesting retired soldiers at the Jantar Mantar protest site, leading to scuffles.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Vijay Singh told IANS that all protesters were being evicted from the area for security reasons ahead of Saturday as part of a drive by the New Delhi Municipal Council.
As the ex-servicemen refused to move, saying they had the permission to stage their sit-in, some police personnel brought down the tent and tried to take away a portable generator.
This led to scuffles between the police personnel and the former soldiers.
"We have the permission to hold the protest and have been protesting peacefully. This is an attempt to get rid of us as they don't have an answer to our demands," said Anil Kaul, a former colonel and spokesman for the United Front of Ex-Servicemen.
As criticism of the forcible eviction mounted, the authorities did a quick U-turn and allowed the ex-servicemen to reclaim the site.
"We got a verbal go ahead from the home ministry and Delhi Police to carry on with our protest," Kaul later told IANS.
"We did not want to move. Some people were injured in the scuffle, but there were minor injuries," he added.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi quickly announced that he would reach the Jantar Mantar protest site in support of the ex-servicemen.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also criticized their eviction and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to accept on Independence Day Saturday their demand for OROP.
"Ex-servicemen being forcibly thrown out of Jantar Mantar? Bizarre. They protected us till yesterday. Now they are a security threat for Independence Day?" the Aam Aadmi Party leader asked.
"Within a year, the NDA has started behaving the way UPA behaved in its second term. This is how UPA-II would crush movements," he said.
A section of former soldiers had been on a relay hunger strike on the issue of at the Jantar Mantar protest site here since June 15.
"I urge the PM to announce (the) acceptance of the demand of OROP of our ex-servicemen from Red Fort tomorrow," Kejriwal said.
Ex-servicemen want that pension payable to each rank should be the same irrespective of when they retire.
The OROP, if implemented, will benefit 25 lakh ex-servicemen.