Retired and forgotten
If you live in Delhi you may have noticed a silent dignified protest at Jantar Mantar. It’s been on for over 70 days. If you read a national paper you may be aware that ex-servicemen have been returning their coveted medals to the President. Perhaps as many as 5,000 have been handed back. The story behind these developments is both shocking and shaming.
It reveals how soldiers and officers, who are prepared to die for their country, are forgotten upon retirement, deceived by politicians and condemned to ever increasing deprivation. Once they were prepared to sacrifice their lives so we could live in security; now, in return, we’ve blighted their future.
The problem is the pension policy of the Government of India. Rather than ensure that two individuals, who have rendered equal service to the nation, both in terms of duration and rank, get the same pension irrespective of their date of retirement, it creates illogical and humiliating differences. In a nutshell, there are three broad slabs – one for those who retired before 1996, another for those who retired before 2006 and a third for those who have or will retire thereafter. What this means is that people who retire earlier end up most disadvantaged even though they could be the most needy.
Let me give you 3 illustrations. A Lt. General who retired in 1995, after commanding a corps of nearly 70,000 soldiers and almost 40 years of service, gets a pension that is 10 per cent less than a Colonel, who never commanded more than a 100 men and only managed 26 years of service, but had the good fortune to retire after 2006.
Yet more bewildering are my next examples. A sepoy who retired in 1995 gets a pension 82 per cent smaller than his counterpart who retires after 2006. And even worse, a havildar, which is two ranks senior, who retired in 1995 gets a pension 37 per cent lower than a sepoy who retires in 2006.
If this is not a kick in the teeth it is, at the least, betrayal and extreme disrespect. This is why the Ex-Servicemen’s Movement is demanding a one-rank one-pension policy. They’re dong so with respect and honour. But does any one care?
Certainly not our politicians who play with emotion and promise only to deceive. In 2004 the Congress manifesto, on page 27, said: “The long-pending issue of one-rank one-pension will once again be re-examined and a satisfactory solution arrived at expeditiously.” Five years later the government is either confused or lying.
Last week the Congress spokesman claimed the government was about to appoint a GOM to examine the matter. Except this is neither expeditious nor is there any time left before the elections. But in December PTI reported that the Defence Minister had told the Rajya Sabha: “Government has not found acceptable the demand of ex-servicemen for one-rank one-pension”. So who do we believe?
The BJP is little better. According to The Pioneer, Rajnath Singh has said his party will “consider the issue seriously and include it in the NDA manifesto”. But what does consider seriously mean? Is it a commitment or an artful play with words? And why did the party not act during the six years it spent in office?
As for the Left parties, who never forgo a chance to agitate for peasants and workers, they’re inexplicably silent about
soldiers and officers. Why? Does this injustice not pain their conscience or are they unconcerned about the defence services?
One explanation trotted out by successive governments for their reluctance to accept one-rank one-pension is that civil servants will demand the same. But the truth is civil servants cannot be equated with soldiers. The latter are on duty round the clock, they put their lives at risk and, most importantly, they retire by rank and not at the age of 60. Eighty five per cent of soldiers retire compulsorily between 35 and 40. 92 per cent of officers do so by the age of 54.
The most bizarre part of this sorry tale is that secretaries to the government, judges, MPs and MLAs have been granted one-rank one-pension. That covers the full executive, legislature and top babus.
Tell me, are you surprised our soldiers despise politicians and bureaucrats?