During his interview after the Budget speech, the Union finance minister, when asked about the fate of “one rank, one pension” (OROP) for the defence personnel, remarked that modalities were being worked out between the defence services and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). He went on to say that he had given an additional 12.5% to the defence budget, giving the impression that he had done great personnel favour to the defence services. He does not appear to know how far removed are the Indian defence forces from the state-of-the-art weapon systems and how long has it been crying for modernisation.
Surely he would know that this additional amount for the defence budget, as such, has no link with OROP, because pensions for the defence personnel do not flow out of the defence budget. This additional allocation barely covers inflation in the cost of defence equipment. In the remaining Budget, there is no allocation of funds for OROP.
Soldiers at disadvantage
The demand for OROP has been pending for well over two decades. The rationale for this demand has been articulated umpteen times. More than 80% of the soldiers retire between the age of 34 and 36, and the remaining 20% at varying ages, with only 0.2% retiring at 60, when all the central services employees retire. Early retirement and extremely limited avenues for career advancement (promotions) place the defence personnel at great disadvantage vis-à-vis their counterparts in the civil services.
This early retirement places defence personnel at great financial disadvantage and takes its toll on them in way of shortening their lives: of both officers and soldiers, notwithstanding the fact that on retirement, they are physically much fitter in every respect compared with their civilian counterparts. The average life expectancy of the officers is 72.5, of the JCOs is 67, and of the soldiers is 64. These are figures from the Institute of Applied Research and Manpower (IARM). The life expectancy figure for civil servants is 77 years. The Railways, in their study, arrived at a figure of 78.
This issue of the shortening life of soldiers was raised in Parliament and the-then defence minister (the present President and supreme commander of the Indian forces) had stated that it would be examined in detail. Those were his famous words!
Babus flummox defence minister
The demand for OROP became all the more strident when the civilian counterparts granted to themselves what is called non-functional upgrade (NFU). Simply stated, it implies that that their pay and allowances will have no relation to their job content but only to the length of the service; and that their advancement in career will have no bearing on the availability of higher posts and performance.
Political parties have repeatedly been promising the grant of OROP. Narendra Modi, as prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), during his election rally at Rewari had promised that on coming to power, his party would announce OROP. Later, speaking to the troops in Siachen as Prime Minister, he said he had granted them this benefit.
More recently, the defence minister has been giving all manner of assurances to veterans, assurances which include specific dates when the case would be finalised and forwarded to the Finance Ministry: well before the Budget date.
Now it appears that the MoD has not been able to resolve the modalities for working out the details. Obliviously, the babus in the MoD have flummoxed the defence minister successfully and made him cut a sorry figure before the nation’s veterans.
Today’s soldiers tomorrow’s veterans
Neither the PM and nor the DM appears to realise that there exists a very strong bond between the veterans and the serving troops. Today’s soldiers are tomorrow’s veterans, and this betrayal on part of the government cannot go unnoticed by them, and will impact their morale surely.
The government’s general lack of sensitivity to the disadvantages of military service and the consequent disinterest of suitable youth in joining the defence services has led to both fall in standards on one part and a huge shortage in the officer cadre. The nations that do not send the better lot to the defence services will one day suffer the consequences.
Finally, a quote from Phillip Mason, ICS, would be appropriate in the present setting. While commenting on India’s dismal war record, he notes in his book, “A Matter of Honour”, that: “Indian disadvantage lay in the nature of organisations of armies and, in the end, in politics and the kind of governments that had grown up in India.” One may venture to ask, if the state of affairs are any different firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a former deputy chief of the army staff and an expert on defence matters. The views expressed are personal)