LT GENERAL VIJAY OBEROI | 4 JUNE, 2015
One Rank One Pension: A Series Of Broken Promises
Certainly no begging bowl this: demand for one rank, one pension intensifies
CHANDIGARH: One was always under the impression that promises are broken only in love affairs and matrimonial alliances, and governments do not usually break promises, especially when these are given solemnly and especially to the armed forces. However, the Prime Minister in his recent broadcast to the nation has done just that. No doubt he made promises but qualified them with three imponderables, viz. ‘complexities’, ‘funding constraints’ and ‘no time frame’. This has virtually taken back the issue of grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) to square one. He also obliquely hinted that since his government would be in the saddle for five years, where was the hurry?
This has rightly left the armed forces fuming, to put it mildly.
OROP, like the elusive Saraswati River continues to be invisible. The demand for OROP is legitimate and does not deserve this kind of procrastination. The political leadership must not treat the most apolitical segment of our polity in this manner. They are not footballs, but honourable and loyal persons of our society. It is sad that they are being made fools of in this manner. The more disturbing aspect is that it is being done, by a government that was expected to have a mind of its own and not be overly influenced by highly biased civil officials, who never lose a chance to put down the military. It is sad that the political-bureaucratic nexus is back in power, much to the detriment of the nation.
The conviction among military personnel now is that the touted ‘change’ that was the slogan that brought this government to power was only an election ploy and there is no difference between this and the previous governments.
Let us now talk about OROP, an issue hanging fire not because it is complex, but because all governments past and present only listen to biased advisors and refuse to apply their minds. They also feel that the forces, even when fuming can be taken for granted and can always be brought around by sweet words and minimum sops. May I in all humility state that the time of both ‘talk and sops’ is now over, for the level of the water has now risen up to dangerously high levels.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had publicly stated “I am personally in favour of OROP but bureaucrats do not want OROP to be given to the Defence Services…” Obviously, the power to take decisions continues to be with our ubiquitous bureaucrats, even though we now have a government that has an overwhelming mandate and is well ensconced in power. Political leaders must consult their bureaucratic advisors, for they get paid for this, but they must inform the nation why they are unable or unwilling to take their own decisions, after getting all briefings.
OROP is hanging fire, not because of any so-called ‘complexities’ or ‘inadequacies of funds’ but because the bureaucrats have been prevailing, irrespective of which political entity(s) was in power and political leaders of all hues and colours did not think it necessary or important enough to find out the reasons for these absurd excuses.
It will serve no purpose in repeating what all has already been stated by many, including by serving Chiefs, albeit somewhat cautiously, who probably have their own reason to remain in such a muted mode!
The ‘gold standard’ of OROP in recent years has been the recommendations of the Koshiyari Committee. The political leadership has no doubt been briefed about it, but perhaps the substantive issues were glossed over, knowing the bureaucracy’s penchant for not coming out with the whole truth. I therefore need to briefly mentioning them.
The Committee, headed by Koshiyari (a BJP MP), had been set up by the UPA Government in 2010 and its findings were also presented during the tenure of UPA in December 2011. Thereafter, it remained in cold storage, till it was resurrected by the UPA, more to earn political brownie points when they saw the writing on the political wall just prior to the General Elections of 2014, than any love for the military! Be that as it may, it is important to revisit some of the profound recommendations of that important Committee.
The Koshiyari Committee is on record to state that – “…There is merit in the demand for One Rank One Pension by Armed Forces Personnel; otherwise the matter would not have been considered time and again by various committees of the Government and Central Pay Commissions. It could have been rejected once and for all and principle of judicature would have been applied to this demand…..”
The definition of OROP, based on the Koshiyari Committee Report, was firmed in as “Same rank, same years of qualifying service, same amount of pension, irrespective of date of retirement”. It was accepted by the Defence Minister of UPA and was reiterated by the Defence Minister of the BJP led NDA Government. So, where is the ‘complexity’ Sir?
Before we come to the funding, the second issue that seems to be troubling the government, let me highlight that we are talking about nearly 50 lakh veterans; disabled personnel (some due to wounds sustained in war and others due to the harsh nature of military service); and ‘Veer Naris’ (widows of military martyrs). To this, nearly 70,000 personnel are added every year. I hope it gives a fair idea of human lives who have a major stake in the decisions about the OROP.
In 2011, the Koshiyari Committee had stated that the financial impact would be as follows:-
· Initial (including payment of arrears) = Rs 3000 crore.
· Annual recurring expenditure = Rs 1300 crore, distributed as under:
. JCOs & Other Ranks = Rs 1065 crore.
. Officers = Rs 235 crore.
(Please note that that it is not an officer-oriented issue, as many ignorant persons assume. This would be clear from the distribution between Officers and our jawans, as given above!).
The bureaucracy, perhaps with a view to scuttle the issue and misguide the political leadership, kept coming up with different figures, till finally the figure is more or less fixed at Rs 9100 crore.
Can the country not afford this?
At this stage, it is pertinent to quote from the Vote on Account speech by the Finance Minister while allocating funds for the Financial Year 2014-15 in Parliament, where he stated: “I am happy to announce that the Government has accepted the principle of OROP for the Defence Forces. This decision will be implemented prospectively from the FY 2014-15”! Jai Ho!!
While concluding, may I suggest that the government takes the date 31 July 2015, articulated in the last of his flip-flop pronouncements by Defence Minister Parrikar, as the last date for implementing OROP? If the government cannot do so, please announce that this government is unable to grant OROP so that the issue gets a final burial and not dragged around till the cows come home!
(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)