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Friday, June 26, 2015
One Rank One Pension: Less about money, more about honour
DNA: Thursday, 25 June 2015
One Rank One Pension (OROP) is a national matter and with every passing day, the delay in its approval is hurting the morale of soldiers - not just of retired personnel, but also serving men who will someday bear the consequences. A large number of ex-servicemen are on a relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi and in many other cities of the country. Some have even started returning their gallantry medals, pushing for OROP, while others are openly venting strong views on television channels. It was sad to see Vir Chakra awardee Colonel Anil Kaul removing his eye-patch and hand guard that covered his injured body parts on a TV channel and vowing not to wear them again till OROP was cleared.
In ancient times, if a soldier had to beg for his rights, the king and the State were considered to have failed in their promise to the nation’s guardians. A Major General who retired 30 years back cannot get lesser pension than a Colonel who retires today. The only other emotive issue for the Armed Forces is the 50-year-old demand for a National War Memorial and Museum at New Delhi to remember the martyrs. Doesn’t every patriotic Indian want to honour and remember the martyrdom of those who sacrificed their yesterday for our today?
All political parties support the OROP in principle, and while this is heartening, time is of essence. PM Narendra Modi (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) made it a poll promise in the last elections. However, the finance ministry bureaucracy has been scuttling its implementation for decades, by scaring politicians with inflated financial implications. But the numbers are now in public domain. The cost of implementing OROP today has gradually increased over the years to Rs 8,000 crore which is around 3 percent of the Union defence budget. More recently, the Para Military Forces and Police have been ‘incited’ to seek the same. Ninety percent of Armed Forces personnel retire at ages below 50 years, while all others organisations have a retirement age of 60 years. The comparisons are thus flawed and mischievous.
The situation is the same as depicted in the famous British sitcom Yes Minister. The bureaucracy has been playing the one-upmanship power game to lower the relative status of the Armed Forces. In the past too, the bureaucracy has tried to interpret the Pay Commission and other government decisions in a manner that gives reduced benefits to the Armed Forces. Servicemen had to fight and win the ‘Rank Pay’ case in the Apex court. A large number of ex-servicemen and widows of martyrs have to keep fighting for disability and service pension in courts because some lower level babu has denied them the same.
The OROP issue has been simmering for 30 years. A strong, clear-thinking, pro-Armed Forces Prime Minister can push a political decision and override the bureaucracy. The Indian Armed Forces has so far invested all their hopes in PM Narendra Modi. Luckily, the country also has a quick-at-uptake Defence Minister in Manohar Parrikar and he personally supports the concept. Two prominent ex-soldiers, former Army Chief General VK Singh and Olympic medal winner Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, as well as Central Ministers are also supporting proper interface with the government. Opposition parties are already jumping the bandwagon to score political points against the NDA government. The time for action is now. Any delay may affect the morale of serving personnel and could well have security implications.