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Unending wait for one rank, one pension

The government’s dilly-dallying on the grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) continues to agitate the veterans. Koshyari Committee of Parliament has defined what OROP is and recommended its implementation. Demand for OROP was first raised in mid-eighties and a hunger strike by veterans was undertaken at Red Fort. Writes Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd).

chandigarh Updated: Dec 04, 2014 11:32 IST
Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd)

The government’s dilly-dallying on the grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) continues to agitate the veterans. Koshyari Committee of Parliament has defined what OROP is and recommended its implementation. Demand for OROP was first raised in mid-eighties and a hunger strike by veterans was undertaken at Red Fort. Thereafter, this demand has been raised at every forum, including the dharna at Jantar Mantar, and veterans returning thousands of their war medals to the President and collecting signatures in blood.

Defence forces have been persistently wronged by successive Central Pay Commissions (CPCs). Around 99.5% of the defence personnel retire before the age of 60: age at which all central government employees retire. Nearly 80% of IAS officers manage re-employment for five years and the more manipulative can get this extended up to as much as 20 years and more!

Early retirement

Soldiers retire at 35-37 years. Early retirement with inadequate monetary compensation shortens the life span of veterans. Life expectancy of civil employees (IARM report) is 77, of railway employees it is 78 while that of army officers it is 67, of junior commissioned officers 72 and in case of soldiers it is 59 to 64. Early retirement with much less pension, increasing family commitments and financial worries take their toll. Even though, at retirement, they are physically fitter than their counterparts in the civil.

Truncated careers, extremely limited and delayed promotions, hard living conditions in uncongenial environments, risk to life and limb, recognised the world over and termed as X factor and fully compensated, is simply overlooked in India.

Taking the existing pay, etc, and assuming there being no increase for the next two and a half decades for civil employees, a soldier retiring at 35-37 years would get approximately Rs 37 lakh less compared to his equivalent in the civil, by the time both reach the age of 60: age at which a civil employee will retire. Thereafter, a civil employee gets much more pension than a soldier. In the case of officers, the financial loss due to early retirement and limited and delayed promotions and subsequently lesser pension, is far greater. When increases by subsequent CPC are taken into account, disparity for defence personnel increases exponentially.

The 6th CPC, with an IAS officer on it, (a permanent feature on every CPC) granted to IAS officers and all AIS (All India Services) and Group A services (nearly 4 dozen of them) what is called Non-Functional Up-gradation (NFU), a sort of ‘pay promotion’ unrelated to job content and performance parameters, etc, but the same was denied to defence services officers, thus consigning to the dustbin the traditional pay parity between the commissioned officers and the AIS.

NFU to AIS means that they can circumvent the pyramidal cadre structure and earn pay advancement right up to HAG level (additional secretary – Lt-Gen) without going through any selection process or availability of posts, etc. This in a nutshell resulted in all officers of these civil services rising one level below the apex (secretary) level. Whereas 99.5% armed forces officers (major generals and below) stagnate in Pay band 3 and 4. This largesse was to meet the aspirations of civil services. Apparently and by implication the denial of NFU to defence services officers meant that they have no aspirations! NFU is simply a plunder of the exchequer.

Change after mid-50s

Up to mid-fifties, a brigadier drew more pension than a chief secretary of a state and soldiers and others 75% of the last pay drawn as pension. A major-general drew more pension than secretary to the government of India. This was to compensate for early retirement and extremely limited and delayed promotions, beside the then acknowledged X factor.

The condition of 33 years’ service to earn full pension works only against defence services personnel because majority of them are compulsorily retired much before completing that length of service. Of the three career progression benefits available to all central service personnel, nearly 80% of defence personnel have to contend with just one, due to retirement, before second and third come into play.

Losing attraction

Military service has become so unattractive that few suitable candidates are coming forward to join the officer cadre. (The deficiency is around 12,000.) Same is the case of soldiers. From 2001 to 2004, 2,000 army officers applied for release from service, which included two lieutenant-generals, 10 major-generals, 84 brigadiers and the rest colonels and below. This is a glaring case of acute dissatisfaction in the service. How many from the civil services opt to leave!

Since the mid-fifties defence services have been relentlessly downgraded. Perhaps the bureaucracy has been frightening the political class, with the mirage of a military takeover and thereby creating a bias against the services.

The higher echelon in the defence services are not affected except for delayed promotions, so it has been a silent spectator to this onslaught on their officers. Policy of divide and rule of the government was first applied in the case of King Commissioned Officers (KCIOs) and the rest and later to higher echelon and the remaining officer corps of the defence services. Both the KCIOs and later higher echelon has been easy prey to these machinations of the politico-babu combine.

The PM, on more than one occasion, has committed that OROP would be granted. While defence services have full faith in the word of the PM, the then, part-time defence minister (Arun Jaitley) let out a missive. To a delegation of veterans he told that they better lower the demand. Obviously, Jaitley is not on the same page as his PM. He wanted to refer the case to a tribunal.

Attempts to flummox the political executive are afoot in that for one, the implementation of OROP is complicated, and two, it would open a Pandora’s box because all others would agitate for the same. The argument is totally untenable. Let civil services adopt the same service conditions, that is, same age for retirement and similar scope for promotions with attendant delay (leaving aside the X-factor) to qualify for adoption of the OROP concept.

The great injustice done to defence services needs early correction and the PM would do well to personally and urgently look into this.

(The writer, a former deputy chief of army staff, is a commentator on defence and security issues. The views expressed are personal.)

First Published: Dec 04, 2014 11:28 IST