Tuesday, July 14, 2015

OROP – A Moment of Anger and Hope

Karan Kharb
                Military veterans are again shouting from the streets – an act that does not behove of their
widely adored chivalrous image in the country.  But they have a cause to fight for and a reason to be angry.  For more than 30 years they have been fighting for ‘one rank one pension’ (OROP), a demand that has been recommended by numerous parliamentary committees, promised by all major political parties in their pre-election manifestos, unanimously accepted in the parliament but never delivered despite being budgeted twice – in the last budget of the outgoing UPA government and in the first budget of the present Modi Sarkar. The essence of the OROP demand is that there should be no disparity in the pension scales of military pensioners and equal rank and service length must get equal pension irrespective of their dates of retirement. In other words, a Sepoy, Subedar or Colonel who retired in the past should get the same pension as given to his counterpart retiring today or anytime in the future.   
Like the euphoric multitude of India’s voters, defence veterans also exhibited extraordinary zeal in spurring the Modi wave throughout the country. His passionate appeals moved them to unite and vote for the BJP. Later, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the troops to celebrate Diwali at the world’s highest battlefield Siachen Glacier in 2014, he had passionately declared, “I am happy that Providence has ordained it in my destiny that the long pending OROP dues of our ex-soldiers shall also be delivered through my hands.”  Ironically, even as they are holding rallies and fasts to register their protest against the lingering delay, their faith in Prime Minister Modi has not diminished.
                Now, when the first anniversary of the Modi Sarkar passed off without the government ordering implementation of OROP, the Prime Minister has reiterated his commitment in his ‘Man ki Baat’ broadcast on 28 May 2015. However, rather than feeling reassured, the once-bitten-twice-shy ESM community has been somewhat disheartened by the Prime Minister’s statement that he was lately realising that the issue of OROP was not as simple as he had thought and, yet, it would be finally resolved during his tenure. The ESM are suspecting bureaucratic machinations being at play to delay, dilute and deny the roll out of OROP that stands finally accepted and settled in all respects. Even as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have attempted to alley these fears, the ESM organisations failed to elicit any specific timeline for OROP implementation from the government. What gives credence to the existence of anti-military bureaucratic machinations is the slowly rising behind the scene demand from the central police organisations like BSF, CRPF. ITBP and others for “equal benefits” to their pensioners as well. 

                There are strong reasons why the OROP must be granted to the military pensioners and why it cannot be extended to any other government service. Firstly, military is the ultimate tool of state power and it steps in where all others have either failed or unwilling to undergo the hardships and danger involved in tackling the situation at hand.  Admittedly, military personnel have to retire younger because upkeep of military’s combat potential to its optimum necessitates it.  Thus retiring earlier than others between the age of 35 to 50 years, the soldier finds himself in the vortex of onerous responsibilities like growing children, education, marriage of dependent siblings, care of old ailing parents and allied expenses at a time when his income is slashed by half. Paramilitary personnel and civilians, on the contrary, continue getting enhanced salaries keeping pace with their escalating expenses at home without any disruption in their service. Unlike the soldiers, by the time they superannuate at the age of 60, most of their family responsibilities would be over with children settled and earning.        
Secondly, service progression of civilian employees who suffer from disease or other physical disabilities is protected and they are retained in service until the age of superannuation whereas disabled military personnel are medically boarded out of service because the ‘sheltered appointments’ do not exist in the combatant military service.  
Thirdly, the officers’ case is even more intriguing. The 6th Central Pay Commission introduced the concept of ‘Non Functional Upgradation’ (NFU) for 58 cadres of Group A Services to remove stagnation and alleviate the disparity between the IAS and other Group A officers. Accepted and implemented by the Government this concept implies that whenever any IAS officer of the state or joint cadre is posted at the Centre to a position carrying a specific grade pay in Pay Bands PB-3 or PB-4, the officers belonging to batches of Organised Group A services that are senior by two years or more and have not been promoted so far to that particular grade would be granted the same grade on a non functional basis from the date of posting of the IAS officers in that grade at the Centre. Hence if an IAS officer becomes Joint Secretary in 17 years of service the officers of Group A Service will start drawing the salary of Joint Secretary in a maximum of 19 years of service and similarly that of Addl Secretary /Lt Gen in 30 and 32 years respectively. What is intriguing here is that the Armed Forces officers have been excluded from the Group A Services in so far as NFU is concerned.
What has irked the Armed Forces officers most here is that if stagnation and growing disparity were the criterion to safeguard career progression of Services other vis-à-vis IAS, no one would deserve NFU more than them. The pyramidal structure of military hierarchy squeezes out many officers who are meritorious for holding higher responsibilities but cannot be promoted due to limited vacancies in higher ranks. The career progression being cylindrical in the case of Group A Services, 95 per cent officers reach the level of additional secretary whereas only three per cent commissioned officers in the Armed Forces become lieutenant general.  Furthermore, whereas 100 per cent civilian government officers retire after reaching the highest pay scale in their pay band at the age of 60 years, at least 85 per cent military officers retire between the age of 50 to 58 years.  A significant implication of NFU is that all IAS officers and Group A Service officers retire after attaining the highest pay scale – HAG or HAG plus – and thus getting the highest pension rate in their cadre despite having been superseded in lower ‘ranks’.
Much of the growing resentment among military personnel – serving and retired – could have been stemmed if the retiring military personnel were provided appropriate government jobs including lateral absorption in police and para-military forces. Likewise, whereas military officers are in demand in the private sector, governments at the Centre and in states, thanks to bureaucratic resistance, have been reluctant to absorb retiring military officers in government jobs in positions corresponding to their last position/rank/seniority. A rich reservoir of multi-function experience of military engineers, administrators, crisis managers is allowed to go waste even as IPS officers with no unit level command experience are posted to guide and supervise paramilitary forces just as the ubiquitous know-all IAS officers are posted vice chancellors of universities, chairmen/directors of public sector units, defence installations and you know what. This nexus has succeeded in scuttling implementation of the post-Kargil Subramanyam Committee report on reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which has persistently avoided induction of military officers and defence expertise in the country’s apex defence planning organisation.

Prime Minister Narrendra Modi, however, seems to be addressing higher military, defence security framework differently.  Having visited the Army, Navy and Air Force installations and forward areas within the first few months of his swearing in, Modi has put Manohar Parrikar, a man known for his pragmatism and performance, in charge of country’s Defence.  MoD is humming with activities that suggest some long term changes being in the offing. The Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Finance Minister have all unequivocally endorsed the legitimacy of ESM’s OROP demand. What has not happened in the last 68 years is happening now, slowly but powerfully.  Even as the ESM are restive and protesting, their faith in the present government has bolstered their hope.  
[Acknowledgement: This article was published in 'Geopolitics' magazine (July 2015)


  1. Anonymous8:44 am

    Let us hope the government implement the OROP in few days!

  2. Its unfortunate that the Veterans are and have been cheated by the Government of India for more than 3 decades. During the last election campaign Sri Damodar Narendra Modi had assured the veterans of IMPLEMENTING OROP on formation of his Government. The veterans have been waiting patiently that the new Government would take some action on it, but in vain. But now, do or die situation has come due to dilly dallying by Govt. under pressure from babus who have interest in their own cadre. It is right time that Govt take its own independent decision and remove the un-necessary hurdle put up by Babus.