Rewarding nation’s defenders
The nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten”, said Calvin Coolidge, Former President of the United States. The issue of one-rank-one-pension scheme for retired Armed Forces personnel has once again hogged the national headlines, with some war veterans protesting the delay and the Opposition jumping into the fray to woo ex-servicemen who play a decisive role in many parliamentary and legislative constituencies. Before the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, dying hopes of ex-service personnel were rekindled after Narendra Modi, in his first mega political rally at Rewari in Haryana as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, had demanded from the then UPA Government, a White Paper on the OROP issue which has been one of the major demands for the Armed Forces. He even said that if the Vajpayee Government had been re-elected in 2004, a solution to this issue would have been found.
OROP is a uniform payment of pension to those personnel who retire in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of the date of retirement. OROP aims at bringing about a parity. At present the pension depends on the Pay Commission, under which the veterans retired. Defining OROP, the Supreme Court, in its September 9, 2009 ruling said, “No defence personnel, senior in rank can get lesser pension than his junior irrespective of the date of retirement. Similarly, placed officers of the same rank are to be given the same pension irrespective of the date of retirement.”
Unfortunately, over the past few decades, while every Pay Commission increased the salaries of Government servants, pensions of ex-servicemen remained unchanged. Whenever successive Pay Commissions enhanced the salaries and consequently the pensions, these were effected only prospectively. The gap between past pensioners and their younger equivalents kept widening with every successive Pay Commission. The disparity has become uncomfortably stark after the Sixth Pay Commission. For equal service, a Sepoy who retired prior to 1996, gets 82 per cent lower pension than a Sepoy who retired after 2006. Similarly, among officers, a pre-1996 Major gets 53 per cent lower pension than his post 2006 counterpart.
Also, as compared to other civil servants, defence personnel do not get to serve the years as required to procure optimum pension amount. The average retirement age of many defence personnel is 35 years. After he retires, the soldier looses the opportunity to earn a salary amount for 25 years and instead gets pension which also is cut down to less than half on account of 33 years’ service conditionality. This means, while a civil servant may put in as many as 33 years and secure a 50 per cent pension, a defence personnel would probably be retired much before he completes that many years and so will not be eligible for the same amount of pension.
In its landmark judgement, the Supreme Court in 1983 in the matter of D. S Nakra and others versus the Union of India (AIR 1983, SC 130) had observed thus, “Pension is not a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer. It is not an ex-gratia payment, but a payment for past services rendered. It is a social welfare measure, rendering socio-economic justice to those who in the hey days of their life, ceaselessly toiled for their employers on an assurance that in their old age, they would not be left in the lurch.”
Going by pension being ‘a payment for past services rendered’, logic demands that ‘equal service’ must get ‘equal payment’. The ‘equal service’ in military parlance has two parameters – the quantity, in the form of total years in uniform, and the quality, implying the level of responsibility or the rank held. In other words, ‘equal service’ and ‘equal rank’ should get ‘equal pension’ – which is today referred as OROP.
In their presentation to the Committee on Petitions of the Rajya Sabha on Orop under the chairmanship of former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Bhagat Singh Koshyari, the citizen support group for grant of OROP to the Armed Forces personnel, pointed out that during pre-independence, Indian officers had a distinct edge over their civilian counterparts for pay and pension. This edge was maintained till 1953. After that, however, the advantage was gradually eliminated over a period of time. Maintaining that in many cases the civilians now enjoy an edge over the Armed Forces, it said this does not happen in any other country except in India.
A Petitions Committee was constituted following a petition co-filed by independent Rajya Sabha Member Rajeev Chandrasekhar for grant of OROP to retired Armed defence personnel and tabled its report in the Rajya Sabha on 19th December, 2011. The panel recommended the Government to implement Orop in defence forces and constitute a separate Commission to determine the pay, allowance and pension of the defence personnel. In April, the Standing Committee on Defence, in its report submitted in the both Houses of Parliament, regretted that even after Modi had made a commitment and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had provided Rs1,000 crore in the General Budget, the Orop has not been implemented.
MPs like Chandrasekhar too have been at the forefront of the crusade for Orop taking major initiatives inside and outside Parliament including interventions in Parliament, letters to Government, articles in the media and follow up meetings with Ministers and veterans. There is also a growing feeling that due to unattractive compensation, the Armed Forces is unable to attract meritorious youth to its ranks leading to acute shortage of officers.
According to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, OROP would be implemented once issues such as budgetary allocations are ironed out. The previous UPA Government had allotted Rs500 crore while the NDA Government has allotted Rs1,000 crore.
On the other hand, the petition committee recommended Rs1,300 crore and the financial advisor (defence services) recommended Rs1,200 crore. There were also independent studies that recommended figures varying between Rs14,000 crore and Rs22,000 crore. The implementation is expected to benefit about 25,00,000 personnel who retired over the years.