With a section of the retired military personnel attacking the Modi government over pension anomalies vis a vis their civilian counterparts (this has seen the unfortunate incident of an alleged suicide by a retired soldier in Haryana) and with politicians starting to use them as weapons against their opponents, the issue of One Rank One Pension (Orop) is proving to be quite ominous from the point of view of the overall civilian-military relationship in the country. And this is an irony as the history of the Orop agitation suggests that the Modi government has been the most sympathetic to over 20 lakh ex-servicemen (ESM) and about six lakh war widows.
Of course, as defence minister Manohar Parrikar has told The Indian Express, the Orop process will take two more months to be fully completed. “Within 18 months, we resolved the 43-year-old OROP issue to high satisfaction levels, and all pending issues will be resolved shortly," he said, adding, “Most of the pending issues have been inherited by this government. Barring the disability pension, most other issues have their origin in the Sixth Pay Commission, which we are committed to resolve. It is inappropriate to allow vested interest groups to deliberately build a narrative that is factually baseless and devoid of merit."
And it seems the majority of the ESM community is satisfied with the Orop scheme announced by the Modi government, if one goes by a report of The Times of India. In fact, in his address on Thursday to Army veterans in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir, Parrikar said, “Only one lakh ex-servicemen are not getting pensions as per the Orop scheme due to some technical difficulty or documentation problems. We will resolve them in the coming two months.”
It may be noted that the Modi government officially notified on 7 November, 2015 the implementation of the Orop scheme – equal pension for equal number of years in the service in the same rank. Orop was to be implemented with effect from 1 July, 2014, fixed on the basis of the calendar year 2013, though the veterans wanted the year to be 2014. Arrears will be paid in four half-yearly instalments, but all widows, including war widows, would be paid arrears in one instalment. The pension has been re-fixed for all pensioners as the average of minimum and maximum pension in 2013. Those drawing pensions above the average will be protected.
The annual expenditure on the Orop scheme has been estimated at around Rs 7, 500 crore. The arrears from 1 July, 2014 — the date of implementation as announced by the government — till 31 December, 2015, will be approximately Rs 10,900 crore. This has pushed the defence budget for pensions from Rs 54, 000 crore to around Rs 65, 000 crore. This is an increase of about 20 percent of the defence pension outlay.
Under the Orop scheme, the gap between the rate of pension of current pensioners and past pensioners will be bridged every 5 years. Although the veterans have been demanding equalisation of pension every year, the government went for a compromise of every five years, as against the present system of pay revisions for all the government servants every 10th year. It is said that this compromise is not for the monetary implications (which will not be much) but for administrative difficulties. Revising every year will prove very cumbersome and complicated.
However, the government’s Orop measures have failed to satisfy a section of the veterans, who are increasingly politicising what was once a genuine agitation by hobnobbing with opposition leaders like Derek O’Brian, Rahul Gandhi, Capt Amarinder Singh, Brinda Karat and Arvind Kejriwal. This is rather strange since the differences between the notification and demands are very minor. And here too, the government is open to rectify anomalies, if any, arising out of implementation of Orop, through a Judicial Committee, which, headed by a Supreme Court judge.
It may be noted that the veterans were receiving Orop until 1971, the year when the Indira Gandhi government cut down military pension from 70 percent of the last pay drawn to 50 percent of the last pay drawn and increased – simultaneously – the pension of the civil servants from 30 percent of the last pay to 50 percent. Since then, it has so happened that every central government has downgraded the military in pay, perks and status, compared to the civilian bureaucrats. One such principle has been the “non-functional upgradation” (NFU) for the bureaucracy. The NFU means that when an Indian Administrative Service or Indian Foreign Service officer (the topmost civil service in the country) is promoted to a certain rank (say joint secretary), all his or her batch mates from Group ‘A’ central services automatically start drawing the pay scale of joint secretary two years after his or her promotion. This continues all the way up the line.
The same does not apply to the military, which is a highly pyramidal structure, with 60 percent retiring by 40 years of age, another 20 percent retiring at the age of 54, 19 per cent retiring at the age of 60 and one percent (those who become Chiefs of their respective services) getting additional two years. In contrast, 99.9 percent civilian bureaucrats retire at the age of 60 only.
Of course, it is a huge myth that the Orop did not exist at all in our armed forces and that Orop existed for all civilians.
The Orop was there for all those, whether in civil service or in the military, who reached their super-time scales (the basic of Rs 80000 per month and above). The secretary rank in civil service, Lt Generals and their equivalents in commander ranks in the military do get the Orop after their retirement. But then, given the fact that most in the military retire much earlier than 60 years of age, the Orop demand was very much legitimate, particularly when it was abruptly ended by the then Congress government, that too after the military gave the country a splendid victory in the 1971 war. Since then, the veterans have been fighting for this injustice to be rectified.
When defence minister Manohar Parrikar announced the Orop scheme on 5 September, 2015, there was a little confusion over whether personnel who retire voluntarily will be covered under the Orop scheme. But subsequently, both the prime minister and defence minister clarified separately that everyone who retires early (because of injury, illness, lack of further promotions or family compulsion after serving the mandatory tenure – 15 years for Jawans, 20 years for officers) will get benefit of Orop.
Yes, there are still some little irritants, which the constituted judicial committee will look into. If still dissatisfied, the veterans can always to go higher courts. But these are not the issues over which one can continue to issue threats to the government and politicise the movement. All told, it is the Modi government that implemented its poll promise within 15 months of coming into office of implementing the Orop, something the agitators have not appreciated enough. Here, one may quote Independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a parliamentarian who has been at the forefront for the Orop demand, the day the government announced the OROP scheme.
According to him, “The announcement of One Rank, One Pension (Orop) by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is the culmination of 40 years of wait by the Veterans and Widows. It is our country’s thanksgiving to them for decades of service and sacrifice. This decision makes Orop the biggest and most significant welfare measure for veterans in Post-Independent India by any Government and for that I thank Prime Minister Modi, Defence Minister Parrikar and Finance Minister Jaitley and the Government for the fulfilling this important promise. For me personally, today’s announcement marks 9 years of struggle and perseverance on Orop — starting with the dark days of proud veterans giving up their medals in 2006. Orop was one of the first issues I took up after I joined active politics—and expectedly today is a big day for me personally and for my time in public service. Apart from raising it repeatedly in Parliament and media to the point that I was even called ‘Orop Rajeev’ by many political leaders. I have also had the honour of sitting with veterans in many protests in Bengaluru and Delhi, including at Jantar Mantar."
Take another gentleman, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, former Uttarakhand chief minister. The very definition of the Orop was devised by a parliamentary committee that was headed by him in 2011. And what does he say about the ongoing agitation? “Maybe some in the agitation are thinking just because the government is listening to them, they should squeeze out as much as possible. Greed may be playing a part. I can’t rule out that there may be political motivations to this issue as well.” He wonders how one did not see any protests against a party that ruled for six decades almost but the protesters upped the ante when the Modi government was barely a year old.
It is worth seeing the record of the Manmohan Singh government with regard to the issue of Orop. Based on the Koshyari Committee’s report, the government arrived at a figure of Rs 1300 crore required to pay the arrears for Orop in 2011-12. In 2013-14, the government enhanced the amount to Rs 1573 crore. P Chidambaram, the then finance minister, in his interim budget speech on 17 February 2014, granted a measly Rs 500 crore (based on the estimate of Rs 1573 crore) for the year 2014-15.
It is obvious that the UPA government made a half-hearted attempt to woo the veterans, that too just on the eve of the 2014 elections. Otherwise, how can one explain the Manmohan Singh government’s calculation that the Orop would cost between Rs 1,000 to 1600 crore? Therefore, it is sheer dishonesty when Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi and AK Antony say that it is “we who accepted the principle of Orop and NDA is only implementing it.”