Saturday, 26 July 2014

One rank, one pension: A betrayal in the offing

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd), Hindustan Times Chandigarh, July 25, 2014
First Published: 09:52 IST(25/7/2014) | Last Updated: 09:59 IST(25/7/2014)

The hope of “achhe din” is fast fading for the defence fraternity. The babudom has once more flummoxed the political executive. The very essence of “one rank, one pension (OROP)” is being reinterpreted to the soldier’s great disadvantage. OROP is not largesse for a hard and risk-filled life but merely part compensation for very early and compulsory retirement, and extremely limited avenues indeed for career advancement.

As opposed to this, not only the civilian counterparts have abundant posts in higher appointments but also they retire at a ripe old age with considerable scope for re-employment.
Further, non-functional upgradation (NFU) granted by the babus to themselves is an outright plunder of the exchequer and is to the complete exclusion of the defence services.

The struggle for OROP goes more than a quarter century back. Though successive governments have held out the promise of implementing it, each in turn, under various excuses, has retracted from its commitments. Taking advantage of politicians’ naivety of matters military and disinclination to understand the underlying rationale for the OROP demand, the bureaucracy has been frightening them of a trumped up vision of a cascading effect on the civil services. Obviously, the finance minister does not seem to know what it means to be retired at 35 or so and then left in the sun to dry.

The life expectancy of a grade-four civil employee is around 72 years, whereas in the case of a soldier, it is 62 years, notwithstanding the fact that a soldier is physically fit when he retires.
Then what shortens his life span? He is packed off on a meagre pension (due to his short period of service and, thus, not getting to the top of his pay band) when his family commitments just about start.

In monetary terms and at the existing pay scales and without taking into account the likely increases that the next three pay commissions may bring about, a soldier retiring today would, at his present scale of pension, get about Rs. 37 lakh less than a Class-4 employee of the central government when both reach 60, the age at which the class-4 employee retires. One wonders if the finance minister, given his legal background, is able to weigh the evidence on record adequately.

India is perhaps the only democracy where veterans had to resort to hunger strike and deposit medals to make a series of uncaring governments see the injustice being meted out to them. Yet there has been no positive outcome and the defence fraternity continues to suffer at the hands of callous and uncaring governments.

The very definition of OROP, earlier accepted by defence minister AK Antony, others, and parliamentary committee headed by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari is being reinterpreted by the babus in the ministry of defence, to the great disadvantage of defence retirees. Simply defined, OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement, and any future enhancement in the rates of pension passed on automatically to past pensioners. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pensions of the current and the past pensioners.

A different range of figures to meet the requirement of OROP are being projected by the babus to scare the finance minister. Whatever be these figures, it is more an issue of justice and fair play.

This injustice to soldiers was taken in hand soon after independence and has been unrelenting in content and scope since then.

Of course, the governments have been following the policy of divide and rule. When the new pay code was introduced, it excluded the Kings Commissioned Officers, (KCIOs) because they were occupying the top echelons of the army and could protest. Later the service chiefs have been excluded from the fall in status, pay and allowances to which the rank and file has been subjected in a sustained and unremitting manner.

Perhaps the finance minister is not alive to the fact that the babus are leading him into a situation where he would diminish the credibility of his own prime minister, who had committed to the grant of OROP, as known.

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