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Thursday, December 4, 2014
One Rank, One Pension: Is the bureaucracy back to the same old game of delay dilute and deny? - By Brig V Mahalingam (Retd)
December 2, 2014, 6:58 PM IST
The entire military veterans’ community which includes the war disabled and the widows are dismayed and feel betrayed at the inordinate delay in implementing the One Rank One Pension (OROP) by the government.
The Koshyari committee, a multi-party parliamentary committee recommended OROP in its report presented to the Parliament on December 19, 2011. After procrastinating over the report for more than 3 years, the erstwhile UPA government announced the grant of OROP on the floor of the Parliament as a part of the interim Budget presented on Feb 17, 2014.
Immediately thereafter, the then defence minister convened a meeting to discuss the modalities for the implementation of OROP. The meeting was attended among others by the minister of state for defence Jitendra Singh, the defence secretary RK Mathur, secretary ex-servicemen’s welfare Sangita Gairola, secretary defence finance Arunava Dutt, the three service vice chiefs and the adjutant generals or equivalents from the services headquarters.
A Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing) release issued after the meeting stated that the defence minister “assured the services that the government was fully committed to implement the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) policy and that required funds will be made available to ensure its implementation”. It further went on to define OROP thus:
“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. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pension of the current pensioners and the past pensioners, and also future enhancements in the rate of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners”. This definition is in conformity with the Supreme Court’s judgment in the famous Major General SVS Veins Vs Union of India case.
The defence minister had also during the meeting directed the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) to initiate immediate steps in consultation with the three services, ministry of defence finance and department of ESW to give effect to the decision. He had also emphasized that family pensioners and disability pensioners would be included.
The BJP government reaffirmed their commitment to OROP in their Budget 2014 – 15 presented at the Parliament on 10 July 2014 (paragraph 140). Prime Minister Modi too had promised OROP in his very first election rally besides echoing his resolve on the issue subsequently during his visits to various defence establishments.
Despite nine months having gone by, the bureaucracy is still sitting in audit of the Parliamentary Committee’s recommendations and the Prime Minister’s announcements and perhaps attempting to redefine OROP. If nine months are not good enough for an organisation to work out the details with a clear definition of what they ought to be doing, those in authority in the organisation have no business to continue in service.
It now appears that the CGDA has come out with a projection of 9000 crores as the additional burden on the exchequer to implement the OROP whereas the service headquarters have estimated a requirement of 5000 crores. The CGDA has not provided the details of their calculations to the Service Headquarters. The projection by the CGDA, the veterans’ community therefore believes is flawed and meant to mislead the defence minister. If the calculations are genuine, why keep it a secret ask the veterans. Even if the expenditure is as projected by the CGDA, is it too much of a price for the nation to pay to those who risk their life at the cost of their family’s welfare and their children’s future development at their old age?
Veterans also point to the alacrity with which the bureaucracy implemented the non-functional upgradation (NFU) to officers of organised group ‘A’ services. The report of the Sixth Central Pay Commission was submitted to finance minister P Chidambaram by Justice BN Srikrishna on March 24, 2008. The cabinet approved sixth pay commission recommendations with some modifications on August 14, 2008 and the NFU proposal was implemented on April 24, 2009 vide ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions department of personnel and training 0M No.AB.14017/ 64/2008-Estt.(RR) dated 24.4.2009 barely 13 months after the report was submitted to the government by the commission.
It is an irony that while 100 % officers of the Organised Group ‘A’ Services are covered under the NFU and thus eligible to draw the salary of a Joint Secretary at a service of 19 years, only 0.8 % of the Defence Services Officers would be eligible for a similar treatment after 28 years of service. The system has been so engineered that it places 100% officers of the Organised Group ‘A’ services under the ambit of OROP. Where is the parity between the Civil and Military now, a plea under which the military was brought within the civil services pay and pension system? How can two streams of services with diverse service conditions and terms of retirement have the same pay and pension structure? Where has justice and fair play gone?
The Veterans point out that before the Government had made the announcement regarding implementation of OROP on 17 February 2014 in the Parliament, the financial effects of implementing the scheme would have been worked out and a green signal given to the proposal by the very same bureaucracy which is now sitting in judgment of the Government’s announcement in the Parliament and blocking its implementation. Is the Government being run by the political leadership or the bureaucracy?
Veterans allege that the bureaucracy acts as a stumbling block in every issue that has a positive impact on the soldiers even going to the extent of challenging court verdicts providing minimal financial benefits to Veterans, war disabled and widows in the Supreme Court. The government is prepared to spend money, time, and effort fighting cases even where the financial implications are insignificant but supporting the soldiering community is a total No No. The aim is to frustrate the community and make them run around lawyers and courts at their advanced age spending their valuable time and money fighting a legal battle with the mighty state.
It is time the Prime Minister sees the plot. Delay is an instrument which is exploited by the bureaucracy to deny people their right besides forcing people to pay a bribe to get their file moving. In this case it is a fundamental ethos of the bureaucracy to keep the soldiers begging for everything that they rightly deserve.
The Veterans are an aging community. Inordinate delay in implementing a long standing issue which could provide them with some relief at their old age only gives a feeling that those in the Government who have a moral responsibility to look after the soldiering community at their old age are merely waiting in anticipation for the aged to wither away as time passes. A large number passed away without seeing the Rank Pay arrears. Let that not happen in the case of OROP.
Brigadier (retd) V Mahalingam, has held varying command and staff appointments in his 35 years of Army service. He specializes in security related matters and is a leadership trainer. His areas of interest include national security, defence and security forces, governance, and politics.