Above: Ex-servicemen on dharna for OROP in Delhi/Photo: UNI
The anomaly-ridden OROP is symptomatic of dysfunctional civil-military relations despite the Modi government’s deification of the army after Balakot and other surgical strikes
By Maj Gen Ashok Mehta
On May 5, the Supreme Court asked the central government to seriously consider the concerns raised by retired army personnel about One Rank One Pension (OROP). The four major anomalies of the imperfect OROP awarded in November 2015 are:
- Equalisation of pension every year instead of every five years
- Fixation of pension at top of the bracket instead of the average
- Implementing it from April 1, 2014 instead of July 1, 2014
- Taking the financial year 2013-14 as the base year for calculation instead of average of the calendar year 2013.
Maj Gen Satbir Singh (retd), chairman, Indian Ex-servicemen Movement, has said: “Changing the definition of OROP at periodic intervals will militate against passing on any future pension enhancements to past pensioners, thus killing the very soul of OROP.”
In general, the definition given by the Parliamentary Committee headed by Bhagat Singh Koshyari in 2011 has been accepted by the government and Parliament. OROP seeks parity in pension for those retiring with the same rank and duration of service, irrespective of the time of retirement.
The two-judge bench listed the case for August 2019 observing that it expects the government to scrutinise grievances and also to seriously consider them to determine whether and if so, to what extent, justice can be provided to the satisfaction of all concerned.
The Supreme Court had ordered the implementation of OROP on July 11, 2015 in six weeks but the government sought still more time on a seven-year-old judgment. The Court then reminded the government of its promise to implement the ruling in the run-up to the 2014 elections, adding: “You made promises and OROP was in your election manifesto.” On August 18, 2015, the Supreme Court noted in another case of rank pay: “Soldiers should not fight with the government. They should rather fight the enemy.” What the judges failed to say or could not say is that the principal enemy of the armed forces is the civilian bureaucracy which has kept the military under its control rather than civilian political control. The armed forces periodically feel cheated in every way but soldier on, such is their discipline, tolerance level and loyalty.
Inordinate hedging by the government on OROP forced military veterans to take to peaceful protests at Jantar Mantar. That included a decision to return medals and undertake fast unto death rallies. After 65 days of peaceful sit-in protests, on August 14, 2015, the government ordered eviction of the veterans from Jantar Mantar in a most heavy-handed manner with the police crackdown roughing up several soldiers. The indignity inflicted by the police led to 10 Service Chiefs writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemning the incidents. Incidentally, their letter never reached the prime minister—it was mysteriously stated by the PMO.
Finally on November 5, 2015, an anomaly-laden OROP was announced. Its salient features as stated in the order are as follows:
- To begin with, pension of past pensioners would be re-fixed on the basis of pension of retirees of calendar year 2013 and the benefit would be effective from 1.7.2014.
- Pension will be re-fixed for all pensioners on the basis of the average of minimum and maximum pension of personnel retiring in 2013 in the same rank and with the same length of service.
- Pension for those drawing above the average shall be protected. Arrears to be be paid in four equal half-yearly instalments.
However, all the family pensioners, including those in receipt of special/liberalised family pensioners, and gallantry award winners shall be paid arrears in one instalment. In future, the pension would be re-fixed every five years.
Personnel who opt to get discharged henceforth on their own request under Rule 13(3)1(i)(b),13(3)1(iv) or Rule 16B of the Army Rule 1954 or equivalent Navy or Air Force Rules will not be entitled to the benefits of OROP. It will be effective prospectively.
Modi has made OROP the crown jewel in his invocation of Jai Jawan and used it brazenly in every assembly election to demonstrate his government’s commitment to the soldier. Someone needed to point out that the Modi OROP was defective and deformed to start with.
That is the reason military veterans are in court fighting the government not just on OROP but also Non Functional Upgrade (NFU). This has been enjoyed by Group A services and was recently also awarded to Central Armed Police Services. However, the armed forces have been excluded.
Now, after the goading by the Supreme Court, a high-level expert committee has been set up to re-examine the recommendation of the Seventh Pay Commission, which, in fact, wanted to include the military. But believe it or not, the ministry of defence rejected its inclusion in 2016. It was only after the Armed Forces Tribunal ruled that NFU be awarded to the Services that the government opposed it in court. Like in the case of OROP, Service Chiefs could not meet the prime minister over NFU too.
The armed forces have been shortchanged since Independence. Immediately afterwards, their salary was reduced by five percent but it was happily accepted in national interest. Then, after the 1971 war, the Third Pay Commission reduced the pension of Junior Commissioned Officers/Other Ranks from 70 percent to 50 percent but enhanced the pension of civilian employees from 30 percent to 50 percent. To justify this, the defence minister came up with the concept of One Rank One Pension scheme to compensate the armed forces for the loss that would accrue from this reduction. To keep the forces young and fit, soldiers start retiring between 34 and 37 years of age. On the other hand, police and other government personnel retire at 60 years. The remainder of the armed forces retire before 50 years of age. A bulk of officers retires between 54 and 58 years and only one percent reaches the age of 60/62.
The grapevine suggests that the government has informed the Supreme Court that it does not have the money and the technical wherewithal to implement the OROP demanded by veterans. The armed forces feel the politico-bureaucratic combine has degraded their status, salaries and pensions.
In the Warrant of Precedence, Service Chiefs now figure in the 13th position, whereas at the time of Independence, they were No 2 in the hierarchy. Further, the military chiefs are kept out of the decision-making process. The appointment of Chief of Defence Staff, recommended in 2001 by the Kargil Review Committee Report, is being aggressively countered by the Modi government to enable its National Security Adviser, a key confidant of the prime minister, to work that post.
OROP is the symptom of dysfunctional civil-military relations despite the deification of the Sena after Balakot and surgical strikes. Rectifying OROP will take time. So much for Modiji ki Sena.
—The writer has fought in all the wars after 1947 and was Commander of the IPKF (South) in Sri Lanka