One Rank One Pension (OROP) has been notified by the government and, without doubt, it’s a landmark development. After all, this is an ex-servicemen’s demand, supported by serving soldiers and officers, that goes back perhaps 40 years.
The government deserves a measure of congratulations but the question that remains is: Should it have done more? At least in one respect the answer is an emphatic yes. In one other it could improve on what it has offered.
The error in OROP, as notified, is the following sentence: “Personnel who opt to get discharged henceforth on their own request … will not be entitled to the benefits of OROP.” In September, when he first announced OROP, the defence minister actually excluded all officers and soldiers who sought premature retirement. Now he’s agreed to give it to those who have in the past prematurely retired but decided to exclude those who do so in the future.
Mr Parrikar is wrong for, at least, two reasons. First, soldiers and officers who take premature retirement are entitled to a pension so why are they excluded from OROP? If it’s the cost then this is truly a case of penny-pinching.
More importantly, premature retirees — both soldiers and officers — benefit the army. Given its pyramid structure, this permits easier promotion for others, who are possibly more deserving, and, secondly, it keeps the army young.
In a recent article Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain, former Commander 15 Corps, provided details to illustrate this point. After 18 years of service, 45% of lieutenant colonels don’t get promoted to the next rank i.e. colonel. However, presuming the average age of their commissioning is 22, they still have 14 years of service left before they reach retirement age at 54.
Why would the government want them to forcibly continue when it knows they won’t be promoted and, as a result, become dispirited and also block the promotion of more deserving majors and captains below them?
Denying OROP to such officers is not just short-sighted but self-defeating. I instinctively feel the defence minister doesn’t understand this or it wasn’t explained to him. I, therefore, share former army chief Gen. Malik’s hope that he will voluntarily and speedily rectify it.
The other lapse in OROP — but it’s by no means of the same order — is the government’s insistence on equalising pensions every five years rather than annually. In effect this means what the government has granted is one rank one pension for one year but one rank multiple pensions for the next four.
What’s perplexing is that Lt. Gen. Kadyan, the chairman of the Indian Ex-Servicemen’s Movement, claims the cost of annual equalisation would be “less than 100 crores”. If he’s correct, the saving is hardly worth the hurt the decision has caused.
For his part the defence minister has said that paragraph 6.4 of the Koshiyari Committee report states that equalisation every five years would be acceptable. No doubt it does. But I don’t believe the Koshiyari Committee recommended that people who seek premature retirement should be excluded from OROP. So if the government wants to go by Mr Koshiyari’s report it should, at least, honour what it promised in full.
The issue that needs to be resolved — and urgently — is exclusion of soldiers and officers who seek premature retirement from OROP. Here the government has made a mistake. In fact, a silly mistake. But if it’s not rectified it will become a bad and unforgivable error.
(The views expressed are personal)