Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The OROP Entanglement

Updated: August 7, 2015 5:00 am

“The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha. For then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be King!”

—Kautilya

Once again, One Rank One Pension scheme for the armed forces is making headlines in the country. Once again, political parties are squabbling over it, as more than 2.5 million army officers and veterans who have been waiting for the scheme to be implemented for the last three decades.

One Rank One Pension, or OROP, implies payment of a uniform pension to personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. At present, pensioners, who retired before 2006, draw a lower pension than their counterparts and juniors who retired afterwards. The disparity between past and present pensioners has grown with every successive Pay Commission. It became most visible after the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission’s recommendations in the last decade. A soldier, who retired before 1996, gets 82 per cent less pension than a soldier who retired after 2006. Among officers, a major, who retired pre-1996, gets 53 per cent less pension than a major, who retired post-2006. This seems to be the reason behind onset of The Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM), an all-India federation of ex-servicemen’s organisations and veterans. The Indian ex-servicemen organised a grand rally at Jantar-Mantar on June 14 in order to exert pressure on the Centre for issuing the One Rank One Pension (OROP) notification at the earliest. The OROP scheme has been on a seamless journey for the last three decades. Successive governments have ignored it or kept it on simmer, always putting an impression in front that armed forces veterans’ issues are used only for reaping the political benefits. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had offered new hope to these veterans when he said his government would implement it “as soon as possible”.

While the jubilation generated by Modi’s political speech pre- and post-election has died down, the military veterans are still cautious. The decades-long governmental apathy towards ex-servicemen’s demands has put a financial squeeze on veterans who retired years ago and now can’t meet the rising costs of living with their low pensions. For all these years, these veterans have heard statements that OROP has been “cleared”, “finalised”, “signed”. They now want a government order that confirms the scheme, putting an end to the pension disparity that has hurt so many veterans across ranks.

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The debacle over the OROP has also projected the armed forces as an unattractive career option for the youth. Lured by the far more lucrative salaries in the corporate sector, hundreds of officers opt out of the services for better financial prospects. This has led to an acute shortage of manpower in the armed forces. Over 1,900 captains, majors and lieutenant-colonels have prematurely quit the army since 2001, even before completing the 20 years of pensionable service. Consider, for example, the Indian Military Academy (IMA) ‘s 101st course of December 1997, from which emerged Kargil hero Captain Vikram Batra. Of the 353 officers, who passed out, at least 20, including Batra, were killed in action. Of the remaining, at least 12 officers have quit and around 25 have put in their papers. Four officers from this batch who quit were (in Military lingo) ‘super blockers’, the cream of the crop. All those who quit, without exception, had figured in the top 100 of the class. Many of these captains and majors would have led the army’s battalions and brigades in a decade’s time.

Military pensions and legal position over it

15-08-2015Many people who are against the One Rank One Pension argue that, given the alignment in military and civilian pensions, the scheme, if implemented for the military, may prompt similar demands from other para-military forces and civil services. But this argument does not hold water as the service in military is very much different from other government services or let’s just say civil services. For one thing, armed forces personnel do not get to serve as long as those in the civil services. While the retirement age for civil servants is 60 years, 85 per cent soldiers are compulsorily retired between 35 and 37 years of age and another 12 per cent to 13 per cent soldiers between 40 and 54 years.

Further, civil servants are protected under Section 47 of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Oppor-tunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 and cannot be discharged by the government on account of disability until they reach the retirement age. This section doesn’t apply to the defence forces and they can be discharged anytime on account of disability.

The Legal Position

15-08-2015In 1983, the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of DS Nakra and others vs Union of India that “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.” The apex court spoke again on this issue in the case of Union of India & Maj Gen SPS Vains & Others in 2009. It ruled then that no defence personnel senior in rank could get a lower pension than his junior irrespective of the date of retirement, and that similarly placed officers of the same rank should be given the same pension irrespective of the date of retirement.

Again this year, on February 17th, the court, while hearing a contempt petition filed by Maj Gen (Retd) SPS Vains, directed the Centre to implement its six-year-old verdict and follow the OROP principle for retired armed forces personnel. It reminded the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government that the party had promised to do so in its manifesto for the last year’s Lok Sabha elections.

The bench, comprising Justices TS Thakur and AK Goel, warned the government of contempt if it failed to abide by the order within three months. “We make it clear that no further time will be granted for the purpose of [the] implementation of the judgement,” it told additional solicitor general Pinky Anand.

Hassle in implementing OROP

With continuing pressure from Member of Parliament Shri Rajeev Chandrashekhar and IESM, the Parliament Standing Committee on Defence studied and accepted the concept and definition of OROP in 2013. OROP also featured in the UPA government’s budget in February 2014 and was reflected in an executive order to that effect in the same month. After the NDA government came to power, granting OROP was mentioned in the budget speech in July 2014, and the Minister of State (MoS) for Defence confirmed it in the Rajya Sabha in December 2014. Ministry of Defence (MoD) sent the final proposal to implement OROP for Rs.8,300 crore to Ministry of Finance on February 17, 2015. Adding Rs.8,300 crore to Rs.43,000 crore of defence pensions, the total is Rs.51,300 crore per annum. It is this amount that is facing stiff resistance from the Finance Ministry. Non- availability of funds is said to be the prime reason for not accepting OROP. With a view to resolving the debacle, the government is trying to dilute the definition of OROP to reduce the likely Pension Bill. However, the veterans are dead against these actions of the government. They want strict adherence to the definition accepted by the Koshiyari Committee and duly approved by both UPA and NDA governments, which says, “Uniform pension for the armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement.”

Lateral Induction: A viable option

15-08-2015The defence forces are required to keep a youthful profile. Its members are therefore retired early. Nearly 85 per cent of military personnel are sent home before they reach the age of 40. It is not difficult to visualise the mental trauma one suffers on being thrown out of a job when one’s financial needs are at their peak. There isn’t and cannot be any compensation for this. At least, in financial terms, there should be some recompense. It needs to be pointed out that pensions are increased during pay commissions constituted every 10 years. A defence retiree on an average sees four to five pay commissions in his life time and suffers the widening gap severely. The current issue was examined by the Sixth Central Pay Commission (CPC) as well and an extremely viable scheme was proposed by it, both for the resettlement of retiring soldiers and the Short Service Commission (SSC) officers. Against this backdrop, the lateral movement to other government services is the only alternative, says Major General Mrinal Suman.

He argues that over 40,000 young, trained and disciplined soldiers are being released from the defence forces every year at a relatively young age. Such a large pool of highly skilled manpower is lost to the country without being put to any productive use. Assuming that 80-85 per cent of ex-servicemen would like to opt for lateral movement, nearly 35,000 jobs will have to be found to accommodate them—ideally matching the needs of Central Police Organisations (CPOs) and Defence Civilian Organisations (DCOs) under the Ministry of Defence. Thus, almost all retiring soldiers can be conveniently absorbed. Maj Gen Mrinal Suman maintains that as per the scheme recommended by CPC, recruitment of soldiers should continue as hitherto fore under the armed forces. Depending on the requirement of the services and vacancy position in CPOs/DCOs, service period in the defence forces could vary between 7 and 17 years. The armed forces can exercise considerable flexibility as regards the age profile of its manpower. On completion of their tenure in the armed forces, the personnel should be laterally shifted to an analogous post in one of CPO or DCO, depending on the availability of posts as well as choice, suitability and medical state of the individuals’ concerned. Such lateral shift should be optional—some may like to go back to agriculture or pursue other vocations.

The new post should carry same pay band and grade pay as in the armed forces. While military special pay will no longer be payable, it should be ensured that there is no drop in his salary. Seniority should be determined on the basis of the date on which the ex-serviceman had been appointed in that specific pay band and grade pay in the armed forces, advises Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman.

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He further says that according to the estimates prepared by CPC, growing cumulatively, the annual savings on the pension bill would be to the tune of Rs 7800 crore after 13 years. In addition, CPOs/DCOs would get trained manpower and save over Rs 100 crore per annum (the amount currently spent on recruitment and training of raw personnel). More importantly, having performed anti-terrorist and counter-insurgency duties in the armed forces, ex-servicemen will prove an asset to CPOs.

15-08-2015Maj Gen Mrinal Suman further argues that since life time appointment will be offered under the suggested scheme, no special pensionary benefits are required to be paid to ex-servicemen to compensate for the short tenure in the armed forces. In other words, such transferees will be governed by the pension rules of the CPO/DCO concerned. Provisions of military pension will not be applicable to them. It is a well-accepted fact that the worrisome shortage of the officer cadre can only be overcome by increasing the intake through SSC. Presently, a niggling sense of insecurity about future prospects makes young men wary of applying for SSC. They fear that failure to get Permanent Commission will make them jobless in the prime of their lives with full family responsibilities to boot. CPC rightly recognised that only an assured second career can make SSC attractive as financial packages can never compensate for short tenure of service and uncertainty about future employment. Therefore, it recommended lateral induction of all SSC officers’ into CPOs/DCOs.

While the armed forces are called upon to help in every major emergency—be it the Yemen evacuations, the Uttarakhand flood rescue operation, or Operation Maitri in earthquake-hit Nepal—there is nobody heeding the call when these men are in need. The Indian government must fulfil its much-repeated promise if it wants to keep the country’s ar

By Nilabh Krishna

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