Wednesday, September 28, 2011

OROP - Issue Small, Fall-out Fearsome!

The issue of ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP) has been heating up since long. More recently, the nation has seen its 2.3 million ex-servicemen – the most disciplined and law-abiding class in our society – having to publicly protest and return their medals with petitions signed in blood to draw Government attention. Unlike their civilian brethren, soldiers do not have ‘Associations’ to hold rallies and demonstrations to express their grievances. Ex-servicemen are, therefore, neither used to nor temperamentally inclined to make public their woes – a virtue the nation must respect. Yet, if an increasing number of them are now resorting to such methods, it must become a cause of concern for the Government.

The weird arguments citing burden on the national exchequer and risk of triggering similar demands from other Central Civil Services are unfair and unjust because there is no similarity in the job profiles of civil and military services. Rationale behind such rival claims would therefore be grossly faulty and a scantily clad mischief aimed at perpetuating the on-going neglect and systematic suppression of the military and its retiring/retired soldiers. There are ground realities that further reinforce the genuineness and urgency of not only the grant of OROP to the Ex-servicemen but also the need and importance of restoring the lost dignity, morale and well being of the nation’s muscle power – India’s Armed Forces:-

1. Significance of Military ‘Rank’: The hierarchy of military leadership is based upon visible badges of rank and embellishments on the uniform worn by officers and JCOs/NCOs. All professional and social protocol of inter-action is governed by the status and authority carried by respective rank in the hierarchical order. Legally and traditionally, Armed Forces personnel carry their rank even on retirement as a legacy. Whereas in the active military service no junior can get more salary than his senior in the same rank, on retirement this equation is ironically turned upside down, as we have juniors retiring later getting more pension than their seniors who retired earlier in the same rank. It is ridiculously embarrassing besides being unjust in every respect.

2. Serving and Retiring at a Loss: The majority of jawans and officers retire 10 to 20 years earlier than their civilian brethren, thereby losing service benefits, pay and allowances of higher ranks for those many years. The necessity to maintain a youthful military profile leads to jawans and JCOs retiring when they are still in the age group of 38 to 48 years and officers at 50 with their kids still too young, parents too old and family responsibilities far more expanded. Civilians, on the other hand, get to serve up to 60 years and retire happily after reaching their final pay bands with their children well settled and life’s basic commitments largely accomplished. These harsh terms and conditions of Service result in heavy financial loss at the most crucial stage of a soldier when he needs financial security most. Since almost all civil government employees reach their final post/pay band, they naturally retire having earned highest pension scale in their stream, which virtually translates to a more remunerative deal than the OROP demanded by ex-servicemen! Accordingly, if military personnel chose to invoke the ‘principle of equity’, they should rightfully be demanding the highest pension grades in the corresponding running pay band of Sub Major in respect of JCOs/OR and the final scale of SAG/HAG (Major General/Lt General) in respect of officers since similar dispensation is in vogue for civil services.

3. Unequal Career Growth Options: Whereas nearly all civilians make speedy career advances in secure environs of their pre-specified state cadres/deputations and reach their highest rank/pay bands, the majority in the Armed Forces (jawans and officers) find themselves out of job even though they fulfil the laid down criteria for career advancement/promotions. A look at this career contrast: Whereas over 90% of the IAS officers reach Secretary/Additional Secretary level and none retires below Joint Secretary rank, only 0.02% of the Armed Forces officers make it to Army Commander level, 0.15% to other Lt General levels (Corps Commanders and others) and only 0.4% to Major General level (even after the recent cadre enhancement!). Because of the constricted pyramidal organisational structure of the Forces, a large number of competent officers fully eligible for higher ranks have to be wasted out every year. Caught in a whirlpool of systemic adversity, large number of such qualified officers get neither their deserved pay nor pension. Likewise, the majority among jawans too reach no further than Honorary Havildar level whereas almost all LDCs in central services and all Constables are assured to retire at least as Section Officers and SIs respectively reaping highest returns until and after 60 years of age. Military personnel obviously deserve to be appropriately compensated for the losses they are suffering due to early retirement and short-changed dispensation due to restricted career opportunities, early loss of job and resultant loss of salary and pension due to early retirement.

4. ‘Unique’ Service Conditions: Forfeiting their fundamental rights, our jawans and officers not only serve in extremely hostile terrain and climate but also spend the better part of their life in separation from their families even in peace locations with no guarantee of even weekly holidays and festivals. From fighting at the world’s highest battle-field where hostile terrain and weather claim more lives than the enemy, to operating in jungles and desert far away from the civilisation, soldiers lead unusually tough life – unseen and un-imagined in civil life. These extraordinary service conditions make the Armed Forces uniquely distinct from and incomparable with any other Service in the country. Recognising this uniqueness of the Defence Services, the Government has already decided to have a separate Pay Commission for the Armed Forces in the future (as announced in the Lok Sabha by the Defence Minister on 13 July 2009). The crucial details as to how such a Pay Commission would be constituted and how equal to or independent of the other the Central Civil Services Pay Commission it would be, have not yet been made public.

5. Nation’s Last Resort: In spite of its back breaking Recession, it is primarily because of its superior military might that the US is in a position to assert its will and authority coercively over any country in the world, disregarding dissent, if any, from any power in the world. It is through a credible military deterrent that a nation’s diplomatic and political strides find meaning and economy its protective cover. Few countries have used their military might more than India to defend their borders and maintain order within. With a history of four wars since Independence, incessant insurgencies and expanding terrorism, India should be imparting lessons to the world on the importance of maintaining a powerful and motivated military. From Siachin to Arunachal to Kanyakumari, for anything too serious or too dangerous, eg, natural calamities, epidemic, riots, disruption of essential services, failure of civil administration – even for salvaging the national honour in fiascos like the CWG footbridge collapse – the Government and the people alike have always turned to Fauj (Armed Forces) for speedy solutions. Others can raise their hands, stand aside and watch. But has the Fauj ever belied nation’s faith in its Armed Forces? Their failure, God forbid, if ever so it were, it would be a national disaster.

The treatment being met out to the Armed Forces in India has started hurting the serving and retired soldiers alike. A calculated and systematic method is seen clearly at work in degrading the position and prestige of military ever since the 4th Pay Commission. Every successive Pay Commission has pushed Armed Forces a few notches below their deserved niche. The way the Ex-servicemen’s demand for OROP has been treated goes to prove that there are anti-military forces aggressively at work to deprive soldiers and ex-soldiers of their genuine dues. In all fairness, bureaucrats found guilty of delaying and denying military dues and entitlements must be severely dealt with and even prosecuted for their anti-national outlook or for inefficiency. This must be particularly ensured in cases where the political leadership and/or the higher judiciary have ruled in favour of the military. The case in point is the ex-servicemen’s demand for OROP which has been long lost in bureaucratic machinations despite its non-controversial character and unanimity of views in its support from all authorities/judiciary/political parties that have ever deliberated over this demand as is clear from the following facts on record:-

(a) Firstly, grant of OROP has been repeatedly recommended by successive Parliamentary Committees over the years.

(b) Secondly, nearly all major Political Parties including Congress and the BJP have supported the long pending OROP demand in their election manifestoes. The UPA Chairperson, Mrs Sonia Gandhi is on record declaring her support in favour of Ex-servicemen on this score in her public utterances and media interactions.

(c) Thirdly, observations and directions passed by the Judiciary (including honourable Supreme Court) in a number of cases relating to disparity in pay & pension of ex-servicemen have favoured removal of disparity on this issue. An anguished Supreme Court has gone to the extent of admonishing the authorities for treating soldiers/ex-soldiers like ‘beggars’.

(d) Fourthly, even the Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary found it hard to refute the legitimacy of OROP demand. However, while the Committee largely accepted the essence of the demand in respect of the JCOs/OR (PBOR), in the case of Commissioned Officers, it stopped just short of according parity between pre and post 01-01-2006 pensioners. (Statement of Shri AK Antony, Minister of Defence in the Lok Sabha on 13 Jul 2009 refers). Confounding the simple issue, the Committee’s convoluted recommendations at best halved the injustice to officers by introducing an absurdly misleading idea ‘modified parity’ as if there could be such a thing as ‘modified truth’ or ‘starve & enjoy’! Reality is that anything other than ‘parity’ is ‘disparity’ and that must be resolved in simple and absolute terms.

Unfortunately, a skewed impression has been created about the genuine requirements of the serving and retired soldiers as if these were no more than their welfare demands. The seriousness of repercussions such distorted views can have in weakening the vitals of our national defence is indeed grave because the nation’s defence potency will be only as strong as the motivation of its soldiers. Their well being must, therefore, be viewed as national imperatives and not merely questions of their welfare. Since every serving soldier is a future ex-serviceman, repercussions of decisions on issues like OROP directly affect the psyche of fighting soldiers as well. The simmering disgruntlement among the soldiers and ex-soldiers raises serious questions on the state of morale and motivation of our Armed Forces. Nothing can be more perilous for a country than a demoralised military led by an impoverished leadership in the wake of continuing Government apathy on basic issues such as OROP.

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