Nitin Gokhale neatly summarises everything you need to know on why the armed forces lost their ‘One Rank One Pension’ privileges, the agitation to get it reinstated and how the government settled the issue.
It may just be a coincidence, but two significant events in India’s recent military history have happened on 5 September. In 1965, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Defence Minister YB Chavan gave the final go-ahead for Operation Riddle–Indian Army’s plan to cross the international border and threaten Lahore. Half a century later, on the same date, the NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, righted a historic wrong done to the Indian military by the Indira Gandhi government in 1973, by meeting the long-standing demand of One Rank One Pension or OROP for retired military veterans.
Ironically, it was in the wake on the Indian military’s finest hour–the 1971 victory over Pakistan–that Indira Gandhi’s government cut down military pension from 70 per cent of the last pay drawn to 50 per cent of the last pay drawn and increased–simultaneously–the pension of the civil servants from 30 per cent of the last pay to 50 per cent. Since then, there has been a systematic effort to downgrade the military in pay, perks and status. Even the previous NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee could not correct the anomaly.
Last Saturday’s decision to grant OROP therefore is historic, some shortcomings notwithstanding.
What has the Government agreed to?
In simple terms, OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of their date of retirement. Future enhancements in the rates of pension would be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pension of current and past pensioners at periodic intervals.
Under this definition, it has been decided that the gap between the rate of pension of current pensioners and past pensioners will be bridged every 5 years.
Under the OROP Scheme:
The benefit will be given with effect from 1st July, 2014. The present government assumed office on 26th May, 2014 and therefore, it has been decided to make the scheme effective from a date immediately after.
Arrears will be paid in four half-yearly installments. All widows, including war widows, will be paid arrears in one installment.
To begin with, OROP would be fixed on the basis of the calendar year 2013.
The pension will be re-fixed for all pensioners retiring in the same rank and with the same length of service as the average of minimum and maximum pension in 2013. Those drawing pensions above the average will be protected.
There was a bit of confusion about a clause that said ‘personnel who retire voluntarily will not be covered under the OROP scheme.’ Both Prime Minister Modi and Mr Parrikar have separately clarified on Sunday 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. “Jawans have to retire after 15-17 years of service. A few people think they will not get OROP… they are misleading you by calling it VRS (voluntary retirement scheme)… If anybody gets OROP, jawans will be the first… Those injured, those who had to compulsorily leave, they will get OROP. Can a Prime Minister who loves the armed forces even think of depriving such people of OROP benefits,” he said at a rally in Faridabad much to the relief of veterans who were up in arms against this seemingly last-minute ‘googly.’ In fact, Mr Parrikar had already clarified the issue on Saturday evening within hours of the initial announcement.
Although the veterans have been demanding equalization of pension every year, the government has decided to undertake the revision every five years. This is seen as a compromise between the demand of the veterans (who wanted equalization every one year) and the principle of doing the equalization from Pay Commission to Pay Commission (every 10 years), advocated by non-MoD mandarins in the government. This way pensioners would not lose much in monetary terms since a payout every year would have resulted in only about Rs 100 crores extra for 25 lakh veterans in a year in addition to the amount that has been sanctioned now. Although the sum involved is small, calculations every year were seen as cumbersome and complicated.
Under the government’s proposed formula, each jawan is likely to see an enhancement of at least Rs 3,500 per month in his pension while officers will most probably draw Rs 7,500 to Rs 8,000 more per month. While there will be some dissenting voices for sure, a majority of the veterans are likely to accept the government’s formulation.
To understand the origins of the demand for One Rank One Pension, it must be noted that 90 per cent of the military personnel retire from service at an average age of 35 to 37 years. This early retirement deprives them of full pay and perks for nearly 25 years as compared to their civilian counterparts who retire between 58 and 60 years of age.
Despite this crying need to support the soldiers, successive governments ignored the demand. When veterans who felt further deprived by the award of the 6th Pay Commission in 2008 relaunched the demand with renewed vigour in 2010, the UPA government after much reluctance accepted the report of the Bhagat Singh Koshiyari Committee of the Rajya Sabha which recommended the principle of One Rank One Pension in December 2011.
Based on the Committee’s report, the government arrived at a figure of Rs 1300 crores required to pay the arrears for OROP in 2011-12. In 2013-14, the government enhanced the amount to Rs 1573 crores. Mr P. Chidambaram, the then finance minister, in his interim budget speech on 17 February 2014, granted a measly Rs 500 crores (based on the estimate of Rs 1573 crores) for the year 2014-15. Clearly, the UPA government and especially its long-serving Defence Minister AK Antony had not done due diligence on the issue. It was only on the eve of the 2014 general elections that the UPA tried to make half-hearted attempt to woo the veterans. Therefore for Mr Antony to now say, ‘we accepted the principle of OROP and NDA is only implementing it,’ is nothing short of perfidy.
How casual the UPA was on the emotive issue is evident from the fact that it calculated the amount to be only in the range of Rs 1,000 to 15000 crores. A four-year long agitation in which veterans returned their hard earned gallantry awards and medals to the President by marching to the Rashtrapati Bhavan every week between 2008 and 2012 had failed to elicit any positive response from the heartless UPA.
Prime Minister Modi promised to implement OROP in his election campaign, primarily based on the assumption that it would cost less than Rs 2,000 crore at the most. However, when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under the NDA actually got down to calculate the amount required to make the payment for OROP in 2014-15, it was realized that the funds required would be in the vicinity of Rs 8,000 crores annually. The Finance Ministry threw up its hands and said funds could be a problem but it is the meticulous calculations done by MoD under Parrikar and the Prime Minister’s personal intervention that has ensured that a 42-year long wait for the veterans is over, a fierce resistance by the civil bureaucracy notwithstanding.
There are some dissenting voices among the veterans even now, but their leaders must now realise that they have won the major war; setback in a smaller battle should not become a prestige issue. It is time veterans climb down from their maximal position.