NEW DELHI: The former Justice LN Reddy Commission (henceforth refered as ‘RC’ – for Reddy Commission) looking into anomalies, post issue of the Central Government Notification of One Rank One Pension (OROP) on November 7, 2015, interacted with military veterans at Dehradun on September 6, 2016. It is not known whether the RC still is one man commission as announced in the beginning because Dehradun media mentioned serving military officers as part of the Commission – probably misreported?

As mentioned by the media, Reddy interacted with veterans at the Rashtriya India Military College where he informed the audience about his participation in the Char Dham yatra to four pilgrimage sites, and expressed his gratitude to Devbhoomi saying, “It is my personal feeling that the central government was to rethink on issues relating to the anomalies of OROP”.

He didn’t elaborate whether this “personal feeling” was some celestial whisper during the Char Dham yatra or a telepathic message by some government official. Dehradun was the 11th city he was visiting, out of 19 cities that he plans to visit. Perhaps there was no other alternative to obtain the views of veterans with Digital India connectivity still underway!

The Commission was initially set up for a three month period but later extended to six months. Whether more extensions are in the offing is not known.

In an earlier interaction between Reddy and military veterans in another city, it emerged that the definition of OROP has been deliberately left out of the terms of reference of RC. Demands for veteran military members to be included in the commission had been rejected in the beginning anyway. When the RC will finally submit its report, how long it will remain ‘under consideration’, how long the game of ‘government to announce its decision on OROP shortly’ will be played, and what will be the government’s actual decision can hardly be guessed.

As for what should be expected, Reddy did make a side remark while interacting with veterans at Jaipur that the government doesn’t have much money – get the picture?

If the final government decision is dragged on for months, it would be no surprise given the heat generated by the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Goa next year, not to mention the situation in the Valley. All this leaving little time for mundane issues like OROP. However, one certainity is that by the time the RC report is submitted, Reddy would have completed his Bharat Darshan, visited holy places in 19 or more cities absolving him of any wrong doings; and ready for the next assignment.

There was plenty heartburn when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Parliament “there are many definitions of OROP” in response to a query by the judiciary. Jaitley didn’t elaborate where these “many definitions” of OROP lying, but he could be right about his statement because when the OROP file was being ping-ponged amongst the ministries, every knowledgeable bureaucrat must have given a different definition for OROP. And most likely Jaitley would have picked up the defiition given by the financial wizards of his own ministry.

This by no means is a slight to the bureaucaracy. The bureaucracy actually deserves kudos for the manner in which a simple definition has been twisted and turned on its head; that can put the Chinese foreign policy concept of Biang Biang Noodles to shame. Had this come to the notice of Xi Jinping, these bureaucrats may have been hosted at Beijing not for slapping military veterans alone, but more importantly hundreds of wards of these veterans serving in the Indian Military.

The pay and pension of Armed Forces personnel was governed by a separate Pay Commission and OROP was in vogue from 1947 to 1973, with the pension at 70% of the pay and automatic yearly actualization. According to the Koshiyari Committee, OROP implies uniform pension be paid to military veterans retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement; any future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners; and bridging the gap between the pension of the current and past pensioners as also future enhancements of pension automatically granted to past pensioners.

Even the naïve can interpret that this implies yearly actualization of pension, not every five years which the government announced – amounting to one rank different pensions. Not only was this definition accepted by two Parliaments, it was endorsed in writing by MoD on 26 February 2014.

The Koshiyari Committee had veritably lambasted the government and bureaucracy, pointing out there was no reason for a 3rd CPC to take an ex-parte decision against OROP, that had been working satisfactorily for 26 years. The Committee also tore through explanations given by the Ministry of Defence, terming the treatment of military veteran’s as a clear case of “Bureaucratic Apathy”.

Further, the Committee categorically ruled out equating civilian government employees with soldiering because: soldiers retire by rank, not age; terms and working conditions of the armed forces are tougher and harsher;the risk to the life of a soldier is always higher as they work under severe strain with undefined and unlimited working hours; transfers and dislocation along with bleak career prospects are other disadvantages faced by the armed forces; family life in the military is also non-comparable with that of civilian Government employees.

With the Reddy Commission, attention was successfully diverted from the unaddressed anomalies of the 6th CPC and all preceding CPCs. The 7th CPC adroitly brought the military below the police force and post protests and representations, ‘equated’ the military with the police force which anyway was their intention in the first place. And why should it matter if the police now wears the same ranks, along with the same uniforms and accoutrements? Perhaps tomorrow the task of ‘external defence’ and ‘internal defence’ may become interchangeable. The fallout may be that while we don’t know whom to talk to in Pakistan, Pakistan too would be kept guessing whether they would be confronted by our police or our military. The Chinese may be so dumbfounded that they might withdraw from POK, Shaksgam and Aksai Chin. The dilemma would be for our youth whether they should opt for the olive green or the khakhi, with someone having refashioned the motivating slogan – “Do you have it in you? If you stay in Fauj, no promotion for you. If you continue, no NFU for you. If you leave and go, no OROP for you. Do you still have it in you?”

But puns and fun apart, the government should seriously stop these sic politico-bureaucratic anti-soldier exercises. The soldier understands everything and he will not start stone-pelting to make you run around in circles. If you can’t fight “bureaucratic apathy” (as pointed out by the Koshiyari Committee) because of your own infirmities, stop wasting money on a circus like RC. If you do not want to give the soldier his due – just say so and he will accept it. This bit about no money ‘only in case of soldiers dues’ doesn’t gel with the din of skeletons vying to pop out of cupboards.

India always had enough money that was grossly mis-utilized – and this is not just about a Rs 1 crore samosa party or Rs 14 crore spent on the spouse of a politico for medical treatment abroad.

OROP has been deliberately portrayed as an officer-related issue, which it is not, affected officers being just 1%.

The difficulty of visualizing how military values ‘izzat’ is well understood because no ward of a politician or bureaucrat joins the military but it should suffice to understand it cannot be haggled with as traders do for money.

Finally, the Mathur-types who are not even authorized to mention ranks post retirement, they would do well to tread carefully when playing with the ‘izzat’ of the soldier and use only their mouths when speaking on the issue in public.

(Lt General P.C.Katoch (retired) is a veteran officer of the Special Forces)