Friday, 2 January 2015

Armed Forces: They defend us but there’s no one to defend their rights

Karan Thapar

December 27, 2014

Fifteen months after Mr Modi demanded One Rank One Pension, 10 months after the UPA granted it, five months after Arun Jaitley reconfirmed it and two months after the PM boasted in Siachen that “One Rank One Pension has been fulfilled,” 

Why is this promise still not implemented? And why are ex-servicemen still in doubt about when and even whether it will happen? 

The truth is this is a promise Mr Modi’s government intends to break. It’s already late in fulfilling it but now it’s indicated it will also renege.

At a recent Aaj Tak conclave, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said ex-servicemen would get 80% of OROP and then added “100% satisfaction to everyone is never given in real life”. Why then did Messrs Modi and Jaitley promise the full whack and on what basis did the former claim it had been fulfilled?

Were they misleading the armed forces with pre-election promises that were beguiling and likely to win support, but which they had not thought through? Today, doesn't it seem like that? And if approximately two million ex-servicemen and 400,000 widows feel cheated aren't they justified?

I’m told it’s the cost of OROP that’s made the government reconsider. The Comptroller of Defence Accounts has estimated it could be Rs. 9,300 crore. But three years ago the Cabinet Secretary estimated the cost at Rs. 8,000-9,000 crore. So if it’s gone up to Rs. 9,300 crore, surely inflation accounts for the increase?

More importantly, did Mr Chidambaram in February, when he made the commitment, and Mr Jaitley in July, when he reconfirmed it, not take this into account? If they didn't it would amount to more than negligence; it would be rank irresponsibility.

Now consider what Mr Parrikar’s reduction of OROP to 80% would save. A paltry Rs. 1,860 crore. As Defence Minister is he seriously saying this is too much to give the armed forces, who are prepared to lay down their lives for our security?

There are good reasons why the armed forces deserve OROP. First, the majority of officers retire at 54 whilst 85% of jawans before they are 40. Civil servants continue till they are 60. Politicians, frequently, into their 80s.

In fact, the disparity is worse. An IAS officer becomes a joint secretary after only 19 years of service. The equivalent grade in the army is major general, but it takes an officer 30 years to attain that rank. Also, all IAS officers retire at least with joint secretary pensions. Only 0.8% of army officers become major generals.

However, it’s not the government alone that I blame for this unprincipled behaviour. The Congress’s lack of concern about a commitment it first made is no less deplorable. They’ve gone out of their way to place obstacles in the path of coal and insurance — where cooperation would have been preferable — but they're unconcerned about OROP, which is crying out for attention.

In fact, OROP is a genuine instance of a BJP U-turn but it doesn’t feature in the list Congress released a few weeks ago. That proves it wasn’t following the issue. And that’s because it doesn't matter to the Congress.

The truth is Indian politicians have let down the armed forces. As far back as 2003, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence recommended OROP, calling it “a debt”. 

Both parties promised to deliver. But now the government is scaling down its promise whilst the opposition is either unconcerned or silent.

If this is not betrayal, what else would you call it?

The views expressed by the author are personal 

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