Peddling Veterans, and Veer Naris
Supreme Court's approval required to cover OROP arrears' payment delay beyond Dec 15, 2022
The din over Cabinet approval of OROP arrears to be paid from July 2019 to June 2022 is deafening. The Prime Minister is being depicted as Santa Claus and the Union Home Minister is praising farmers and soldiers.
Apparently the leaders are concerned about the revival of the farmer agitation and soldiers' votes on account of OROP, SPARSH and degradation below police forces, even as the understanding of soldiers does not pertain to the military per se. The defence minister remains a nonentity, more worried about his fate beyond 2024.
The government announcement has come after the order from the Supreme Court , and defeat in Himachal Pradesh which contributes a large, if not the maximum, manpower for the Armed Forces. But how and when the arrears will be paid remains ambiguous, because the government dances to the tune of the bureaucracy – the expansion of Defence Estates and PCDA being proof enough. Rajnath Singh and the Nightingale (a.k.a Bulbul) Sitharaman may yet declare that the government has no money and these payments would seriously jeopardise national security though we did not lose even one inch territory to the Chinese in Ladakh during 2020.
Veterans and Veer Naris should remember: Hanooz Dilli Door Ast, considering the following.
The OROP warranted yearly revision but this was nor done on pretext of difficulties in calculations, despite blowing the trumpet of digitisation and more significantly doing yearly revision of OROP for civil services and civilian-defence employees.
To ward off yearly OROP revision, the BJP announced five-yearly revision (first one in 2019) but has been dragging its feet since then.
The SC has directed to pay the arrears within a specific time frame in one installment. The Cabinet approval to pay arrears in four installments is in violation of the SC directive and amounts to Contempt of Court.
Approval of the SC will also be required to cover the delay beyond Dec 15, 2022 and the case is likely to be heard by the SC on January 2, 2023.
Maximum delay will be tried by the government because NO interest would be paid for delayed payments, as should be admissible.
The government possibly intends time bound payment of the four installments with the state elections over the next few months, the last installment perhaps just before the general elections, even though the next five-yearly OROP revision would be due in 2024. There is no dearth of money in India if it is not wrongly utilised.
The government has no hesitation in giving yearly OROP revision to all IAS, IPS and Group 'A' services who also retire in the HAG/above pay scale, simply by tweaking the definition of pension and the cacophony of NPS. Money is in abundance for them despite their cumulative strength being far in excess than that of the Armed Forces. Same goes for the governmental-defence institutions and pays, perks and pensions for civil employees.
Over 80 percent of military personnel compulsorily retire at 35-40 years of age. Military batch-mates of all civilian employees including CAPF retiring this year, were retired 20-25 yrs back. Thus the pay of civilians is upgraded in 20-25 additional years – implying civilians retire with 10-15 times higher pay or average 12 times higher. Besides, every civilian is going to retire with a pension till about 2036.
Bonded by the bureaucracy, the government would be hard pressed to explain that if a veteran can be promoted and appointed the Chief of Defence Staff, why is the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW), which is the bane of veterans and veer naris, not headed by or primarily manned by veterans? The second question is how are veer naris and old veterans who are not computer savvy expected to get their pensions from the wretched SPARSH system, leave aside the arrears on account of OROP revision which may not be paid to them, when even officers are not able to use it?
Acknowledging the glitches in SPARSH and describing some problems in migration to SPARSH, Defence Secretary Giridhar Armane has urged the PCDA on December 14, 2022 to make it more user friendly. But what about the accountability and culpability of his predecessor, and the PCDA, for introducing this system without thorough assessment of ground realities? Did Ajay Kumar on extended tenure deliberately rush this through as a parting blow to cripple military pensions? Was it enough for Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to pose for photo-ops while launching SPARSH without bothering about the demon he is releasing?
A scholar-veteran wrote, "pension is for old veterans and their families to live a smoother life and needs to be paid regularly without unwarranted hassles. Pension is primarily the deferred wages and no charity imposing various restrictions at sweet will. To expect old veterans to be well versed in modern digital know-how is nothing but a mirage – a hallucination like Alice in Wonderland which is unwarranted. When officers themselves cannot load their data in the desired manner, how can one expect aged illiterate veer naris living in remote areas to do the same?"
Another veteran-scholar says Defence Accounts failed to give TCS (the software developer) requisite user requirements. If SPARSH is to disburse pensions like the 32 CPPCs of banks in the legacy system, then Defence Accounts should have given detailed thought how to disburse pensions to 33 lakh pensioners plus 60,000 to 70,000 pensioners added every year. The CGDA and PCDA (Pensions) Prayagraj should have jointly worked out a workable flow chart to cater for various categories of pensioners – in veteran pensioners and veer naris. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Details of those not getting pension and all the contingencies SPARSH does NOT cater for would need a few pages.
To read the full impact of the damages SPARSH is wreaking on veterans and vie naris readers need to read Page 13 of the Fauji Magazine.
Following complaints of ESM not getting medicines at ECHS polyclinics, a DG ECHS wrote on Facebook three years ago that veterans and widows can ring him up in such cases; an impractical suggestion to say the least. Now some Doctor Know Alls are suggesting on social media that those veterans and veer naris on SPARSH who are not getting pensions should write to the PMO, even through a postcard – talk of frogs in the well!
The mighty bureaucrats sitting in plush offices have no idea of what remote areas are. Take the case of an ESM from my unit who hails from Village Jaganpura in Madhya Pradesh. He needed a certificate of his own dependency from the ECHS clinic which is 60 km away through rough roads. He had to make three trips just to get that certificate signed from the OIC of the ECHS. Imagine the misery if a disabled veteran or a Veer Nari were to undergo this exercise. The so-called savings through SPARSH would be far less than what is being expended on expansion of Defence Accounts and setting up of SPARSH-related centres.
The OROP and its revision is not any largesse, charity or a christmas gift but a right sanctified by the Indian Parliament. Chanakya had once warned: "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!" Ironically, those drunk with power care two hoots about what Chanakya said and consider veterans and veer naris loathsome; unaware that their curses may come back to bite some day, especially by way of elections in states that contribute manpower for the Armed Forces.
Finally, politicians are ready to sell their souls and roughshod even the wily bureaucrats who hold them to ransom. The Armed Forces need to make voting "compulsory" for soldiers, which is their fundamental right and every soldier is authorised to vote in state and general elections at the place of his posting. How politicians react to soldiers' voting can be read here.
No doubt there have been 'sporadic' occasions of soldiers voting, but woefully no Service Chief has shown the guts to ensure that every soldier votes. Politicians are worried their vote-bank calculations would go awry if all soldiers vote; and this not change even if all possible means are used to alter soldiers' allegiance from the Constitution to a political party, China-style. However, with "deep selection" now even down to Corps Commander/Equivalent level, Service Chiefs making voting compulsory for soldiers would be rarity.
Lt General Prakash Katoch (Retd) is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are the writer's own.