OROP : Twisted , Politicised & Smartly Truncated.

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It is for the first time in the last 42 years of struggle for a rightful compensation, that the issue has been generating much interest in the public domain with many considering it as an extra pay being demanded by the veterans. But the truth is more ugly & shameful for a democratic society which able to sustain and keep up its social thread united because of its dedicated servicemen, who sailed the country ashore amid turbulences created by external and internal disturbance.

From 1947 -1973, the Indian armed forces personnel were entitled to get 70 per cent of their last pay drawn as pension, while their civilian counterparts were entitled to get 33 per cent of their last pay drawn as their pension. It was only in 1973, during the implementation of 3rd Pay Commission , the pension of Indian armed forces personnel’s were reduced to 50% of their last pay drawn while the pension of their civilian counterparts were increased to 50% of their last pay drawn on the pretext of bringing all central government employees under a uniform pension formula. This reduction in pension, anguished ex-servicemen community and a number of committees, subcommittees were convened, petitions and representations had been made by different ex-servicemen associations before subsequent pay commissions but to no avail.

Both fourth and fifth pay commissions had out rightly rejected OROP which had become an issue by then on the pretext that similar demand will also be made by civilian employees and paramilitary forces. In 1991, however Sharad Pawar Committee while rejecting OROP (One Rank One Pension) had recommended one time pay hike. In 2004, congress included OROP in its poll manifesto. This marked the beginning of politicization of demand for OROP by bringing the whole issue to public domain.

Alike its previous pay commissions sixth central Pay commission in 2006 also rejected and sidelined the issue of OROP. By then, the issue had become a force to deal with, as the ex-servicemen were having high hope of getting it implemented along with 6th pay commission’s recommendations. This triggered a series of protests to different government heads in 2008 .In between 2009-11 ex-servicemen had retuned around 22,000 gallantry medals en mass in a collective representation to the president of India.Amid all this, the definition of OROP remained largely vague in civil official circles even though armed forces personnel had clear understanding of its definition.

In 2011, enlivened with petition by K Chandra Prabhu & MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a ten member committee was constituted under the chairmanship of BJP MP Bhagat Singh Koshyari to look into the issue of OROP. The committee submitted its recommendations on 19th December 2011 which was already known to ex-servicemen but was oblivion in civilian official circles, intentionally or unintentionally which further depends on bureaucrats dealing with it in defence & finance Ministry.

As per Koshyari Committee, the definition of OROP is as follows:-

OROP “implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces Personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”

Unlike its civilian counterparts military service has two components: – Rank and Length of Service. So it’s obvious that any two people serving in military with same rank and length of service at two different points of time should get equal pay and pension and any future increment should pass on to the retirees irrespective of the time period they retire after serving in military. The concept of OROP is based on simple idea of justice to the ex-servicemen of their fundamental right, without anything called extra pay or benefits.

All central government employees including paramilitary forces attain superannuation (age for retirement) at the age of 60, but this is not the case with military personnel. Central government employees except military will have to complete minimum 33 years of service leading up to their superannuation age (60) to get eligible for full pension benefits. A jawan retires after 17 years of service and gets extension in his service only on promotion to the next rank while a military officer need at least 20 years of military service to get eligible for pension & other benefits, if not then he loses his pension benefits including the privileges of ex-serviceman. Short Service Commission (SSC) are neither entitled to get pension nor the benefits of ex-servicemen.

The superannuation age of different ranks in Indian army are as follows :- Major (48) , Lt Col (54) , Col (54) , Brigadier (56) , Major General (58) , Lt. General (60) & Chief of Army Staff ( General ) – 62. So unless an officer gets his/her promotion to next rank, he or she is bound to retire at the superannuation age attached to his rank.

While the parliamentary committee had given its recommendations in 2011, UPA government dragged its feet for three years till Narendra Modi promised to implement it in an ex-servicemen rally at Rewari , Haryana in 2013. In a hurried decision, the then UPA government made an announcement of acceptance of OROP “in principle” and allocated measly 500 crore rupees for it in 2014-15 union budget. The allocation itself was a big joke, as the calculations predicted an annual financial outlay of 8,000 crore rupees and above to clear the arrears and for subsequent equalization of pensions henceforth.

The equalization of pay and pensions is not a new concept as it had already been implemented in case of all central government employees including civilian employees working in the ministry of defence barring military personnel. So overall, OROP is all about a legitimate right that has been kept categorically denied on false pretexts.

Apart from that there is another issue of Non Functional Up Gradation which has already been implemented in case of civilian employees. Under this concept , if any officer from a particular batch gets promoted to a higher rank , his batch mates will be compensated with an equal pay and pension benefits of higher rank even though they don’t work in that rank. So at the end of their official tenure they will enjoy all fruits without actually planting any tree. This privilege hasn’t been given to their military counterparts yet. So Babu – 2, Military – 0.

After much tussle over the issue of OROP and making respected veterans sit on street demanding their legitimate right including use police force to forcibly evict them , the current dispensation finally announced OROP on 5th September 2015 with defence minister Manohar Parrikar flanked by three service Chiefs in south block.
According to the press release, the government has said to accept the definition of OROP with following provisions:-

  1. Base year of Pension Fixation – 2013.
  2. To be implemented retrospective from – 01 July 2014.
  3. Pension to be Re-Fixed after every 5 Years.
  4. Pension Re-Fixed = Average [Minimum Pension + Maximum Pension drawn]
  5. Arrears to be paid to widows including war widows in one instalment and to others in 4 × 1/2 yearly Instalments.
  6. One member judicial committee to be constituted for thorough examination of interests of retirees from different periods of different ranks including inter services issues.

  7. VR’s (voluntary retirees) will not be included in OROP. (There is no Voluntary Retirement in Military, its only PMR (Pre Mature Retirement) .Government hasn’t clarified yet whether PMRs are entitled to OROP or not.

Now there is a cliché in point no.3, 4 and 6.

  1. The demand was for equalisation of pay every 2 years , but it has now been proposed to be 5 years. While their civilian counterparts will be getting an annual equalisation of pay & pension benefits, the discrimination is kept only for military personnel. Great!! Isn’t it?
  2. A new base salary will be drawn as a reference point by taking average of minimum & maximum pension drawn within a payband , while the  personnels who draw maximum pensions will continue to do so. So with this new reference point, there will be a marginal increase in the base pension of majority of personnel while the disparity with their fellow men of same rank & same length of service drawing maximum pension will continue to remain.

  3. The provision of constitution of one member judicial committee to study the OROP in detail and suggest its implementation within 6 months in itself  is a big question. The recommendations of 7th pay commission will be coming in 2016 and with this six months window the government will get enough time for an excuse. Strangely, neither the past nor the present government had enough time to convene a judicial committee to look into the issue and derive formulas. The former had 37 years & the later had 5 years ( 1998-2003 ) +16 months of time .So now they need another 6 months of judicial drama. Interestingly, the recommendations of judicial committee are not binding upon the government to accept.
    Most importantly, Bihar elections are in anvil and veterans on sit-in in Jantar Mantar supported by their state level conventions from Punjab to Tamil Nadu is a big political risk and may result in a political suicide. It should be noted that the states from Punjab to Rajasthan and UP to Madhya Pradesh including Bihar has large number of serving and retired military personnel.

So you can understand, why and what prompted the government to announce OROP with ifs and buts.

Unlike in developed countries like USA where military veterans play a decisive role in deciding the political mandate, in India it has not been so at national level and their impact is almost negligible. But in 2014 general elections ex-servicemen community emerged as one of the most potent political force to make prime ministerial candidate take note of their long standing demands and political relevance of their community.

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