Thursday, August 6, 2015

COMMENTARY - Will Armed Forces Ever Get OROP?

Successive governments have only delayed military personnel their rightful entitlements, only because soldiers, sailors and airmen cannot form an association or union. However, they did not bargain that military veterans could do so and protest. Such flip-flops over 42 years have forced thousands of Ex-Servicemen (ESM) or veterans, to unite for a rally-cum-hunger strike from 14 June across the country, under a single umbrella of 'United Front of Ex-Servicemen' and are on a 'Maha Sangram' followed by Relay Hunger Strike from June 14, in over 50 centres across the country, to remind the NDA government of the need to redeem its pre-cum-post election promise by none other than the PM himself on several occasions.

Brig AN Suryanarayanan (Retd)

The Supreme Court (SC) had accepted the need for One Rank One Pension (OROP) for the first time on December 17, 1982. It re-iterated the same in SPS Vains case, in 2009: "Pension is not a bounty... but... a right and there can be no differential pensions for the same rank vide Article 14 of the Constitution." On February 17, 2015, it gave the government 90 days to implement their order under threat of contempt, which ended on May 17, 2015. Recess of SC till early July was a breather for the government. On re-opening, on a request from the Government, it extended the deadline from July 8 to August 24. Five years earlier, in April, 2010, a bench of Justices Katju and Patnaik of the SC had criticised the government, telling them to adopt a humane approach towards those bravely defending the country's borders, saying: "If a person goes to any part of Delhi and sits for begging, he will earn Rs l000 every day ... It is unfortunate that you are treating them like beggars."

Sensing an opportunity recently, Rahul Gandhi and former defence minister AK Antony questioned Modi government's failure to implement OROP  while maintaining silence on their intentional inclusion ironically after the glorious 1971 war, of defence forces pension which were separate, under Third Central Pay Commission (CPC), in 1973 leading to its down gradation from 70% to 50%, while that of civil service being upgraded from 33 to 50%; or its inaction in implementation since 1982 after SC orders. In February 2014, UPA had allocated mere Rs 500 crore just before elections hoping to garner almost 70 lakh votes of ESM and their dependents, but failed miserably. Till1973, military pensions were separate and higher, mainly due to compensation for the 'X-factor', which denotes hardships peculiar to military service: truncated careers; extremely limited promotions due to narrow pyramidal structure; long separations from families; limited family accommodation; hard living conditions in remote, hazardous and stressful environment with extreme turbulence; high risk to life and limb; rigid discipline 24/7/365 ageing them faster, leading to early death. When included for the first time, Third Central Pay Commission (CPC), brought it down to 50 per cent, while civilian pensions were increased from 33 to 50 per cent. As a result, both civilian and military pensions were on par which made the armed forces personnel upset.

Despite sensing it, the government appointed the KP Singh Deo Committee only in Dec1982 that too, only after SC orders ibid. That Committee in 1984 recommended a uniform pension in terms of rank and length of service, now known as OROP. Despite three more CPCs in 1986, 1996 and 2006 with no military representation in them; and four Committees, OROP was not implemented. It was Koshiyari Committee of Parliament in 2011 which defined it as: 'Uniform pension for Armed Forces Personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement, with future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.' This was so announced in Parliament by both UPA and NDA governments.

Government retires a soldier compulsorily after 17 years of service to ensure the military has a youthful age profile and allows 12 years notional count for pension but lays down a minimum of 33 years' service for full pension. As the criterion is unfulfilled, most soldiers get effectively just about 31-32% of last pay as pension and not 50%. This is not so for central government servants serving till 60. Why doesn't it waive this quirky condition?

OROP affects 25-26 Lakh ex-servicemen (ESM) today; another 50-60,000 men retire annually. While civilian Central government personnel retire at 60 years, the bulk of military personnel: soldiers/sailors/airmen who form 80-82 per cent enrol at 16-17 years and retire between 34-37 years of age. Another three to five per cent who rise to become non-commissioned officers like havildars/sergeants/petty officers retire at 40 years. The category of Junior Commissioned Officers/Chief Petty Officers/Warrant Officers sheds its uniform between 45-52 years of age.

With OROP, 56 per cent of ESM (sepoys) who retire after 17 years of service would get a 40 per cent hike, others much less. At present, a sepoy who retired before 1996 gets 82 per cent less pension than one who retired after January 1, 2006, and a Major who retired before 1996 gets 53 per cent less pension than one retired after J a n u a r y 1 , 2 0 0 6 . To d a y, a B r i g a d i e r / A i r Commodore/Commodore who retired in 1995 or earlier gets much less pension than a Major/Squadron Leader/ Lt Commander who had served under him and retired after 2006. Commissioned officers from Captains to Colonels exit at 52 years or lower. Just below two per cent of military manpower who attain flag rank of Brigadier/ Commodore/ Air Commodore and Major General/ Rear Admiral/ Air Vice Marshal serve till 56 and 58 years respectively. A miniscule 0.00025 percent of the total defence forces strength serves till 60/62.

From III to VI CPC, while pension for the highest civil service officer increased 108 times (Rs 416.50 to Rs 45,000), for the Army/Air Force/Navy Chief, it is only 45 times (Rs 1,000 to Rs 45,000). The civilian bureaucracy would like to ensure that the armed forces 'do not overtake them' as existed before 1973 because they link Pay to their relative Status! LBS Academy at Mussoorie did not teach them that there are 172 governmentservants in Britain who earn more than their Prime Minister, eg., CGS gets an annual salary of £160-165,000, while the PM £142,000 (including £67,060 MP's salary). Does he refuse to obey the PM?

A meagre Military Service Pay was introduced by VI CPC (1.1.2006). But it clubbed Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Brigadier and Major General into the bottom of a single pay band (PB4), thus re-igniting the OROP fire. Another Committee under Cabinet Secretary to remove dozens of anomalies in military pension due to VI CPC recommended, without even delving into them, a meagre increase from an arbitrary date, 24 Sep 2012, and NOT from 1.1.2006, calling it 'Modified Parity in Pension' and 'a step towards OROP'. On appeal, Supreme Court ordered arrears from 2006 to 2012 to be paid by 17 Jul; but no action is visible, even ten days after due date, as this is being written. Non Functional Upgradation, another financial benefit to Group 'A' Services officers, two years senior but not promoted to a particular grade, when the first central services officer is posted at the Centre to such a post, was denied to the defence forces as they are not 'Group A' service.

The need for a youthful military keeps the ratio of pensioners to serving personnel in the military at 1.7:1 vis-a-vis 0.56:1 for the civilians and thus raises the pension payout. The benefit of contributory National Pension Scheme (NPS) which accrues over 30 years or more cannot be applied to soldiers because of their short service span.

Many spokes are being attempted to be introduced into the accepted definition by 'interested parties'. One was the addition of 'number of years in the last rank' besides total service. But pension paying authorities do not have this data! Also, this proviso is inequitable, as due to service and regimental constraints, vacancies differ even within the same trade/grade. Right from a Lance Naik to Lieutenant General, personnel of different regiments and vintage get promoted at different times vis-a-vis their peers, which is further complicated by personnel downgraded medically and picking up later with original seniority. This is unlike the central services, which move up by batches.

When explained, the Defence Minister was convinced. A cost of Rs 22,000 Crores for OROP was then bandied about; but Defence Minister has calculated and shown to the Finance Ministry that it is just below Rs 8,300 Crores. Another argument that annual incremental outlay will be high is specious, as using Controller General Defence Accounts' own data for JCOs and Other Ranks, increase can be shown to be just 0.85% per year. A split amongst officers vs others was indirectly instigated, but the latter were explained that while they had got an increase in 2009 also, with OROP, maximum gain will be for Sepoys to Havildars and officers upto Majors. 

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who had once asserted that there was no shortage of funds for OROP recently told military veterans 'to lower your expectation' and then offered a base pension for each rank and an additional amount for each year of service, in lieu of OROP. He also suggested that a tribunal or the Seventh CPC could consider it. However, the military veterans refused to accept these terms, as it does not adhere to the definition. 

On 9 July Defence Minister Parrikar promised 'Good news soon on OROP' in Lucknow but later the same day in an interview to a newspaper stated: 'OROP involves more than one ministry; there cannot be any time-frame for its implementation'. It appears that the issue involves three ministries: defence, finance and law, the last relating to the need to conceptualise military pensions from a legal standpoint. But a separate Military Pension had been in existence before 1973; then where is the delay in legalizing it again?

Successive governments have only delayed military personnel their rightful entitlements, only because soldiers, sailors and airmen cannot form an association or union. However, they did not bargain that military veterans could do so and protest. Such flip-flops over 42 years have forced thousands of Ex-Servicemen (ESM) or veterans, to unite for a rally-cum-hunger strike from 14 June across the country, under a single umbrella of 'United Front of Ex-Service Men' and are on a 'Maha Sangram' followed by Relay Hunger Strike since past 6 weeks from June 14, in over 50 centres across the country, to remind the NDA government of the need to redeem its pre-cum-post election promise by none other than the PM himself on several occasions. Evidently, Modi was wrongly briefed by the defence ministry bureaucracy that the OROP was implemented already, when he declared it so on October 23, 2014, in Siachen.

Unlike India, in most nations, the governments stand behind their military men in a big way. This is evident from the fact that the US, the UK, France and Pakistan pay their ESM 10-15 per cent higher pensions than civilians. While Japan, Australia and Germany pay their military 20-30 per cent more than their civilian government retirees. Despite having accepted and announced in Parliament Koshiyary Committeedefinition more than once, PM's words in 'Mann ki baat' on May 31 that there are many definitions of OROP make the military veterans apprehensive that the government is insincere and plans to tinker with the accepted definition.

The ESMs fervently hope that the BJP Government steeped in Hindutva, will keep in mind what Chanakya stated 2300 years ago and decide on OROP: "(Soldier) is....the very basis and silent, barely visible cornerstone …of the entire nation building activity... the day when the Mauryan soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them, will be a sad day and will point to multiple and multi-level failures in the governance machinery..."

Brig AN Suryanarayanan (Retd) was commissioned in Regt of Artillery; he has been Instructor at School of Artillery and DS at DSSC. He is an M Sc (Defence & Int'l Relations) and MBA obtained at 50 years of age. He contributes humorous articles regularly to Deccan Herald,The Tribune and Asian Age. Has a book "Straight Trees Are Cut First: Army's Process vs Practice" published by Manas Publications and is working on his next book:"Many Laughs and a Few Tears". He writes a blog http://surya-musings He can be reached at Email:

(Source- via e-mail)


  1. Although the apparent intentions of the government are to deny OROP or certainly tinker with its definition, which is most shameful for the government in general and personally for MR. MODI. However, to be optimistic, the veterans may wait till 15th Aug.
    With all due respect and admiration for the ESM brothers who have participated and intend continuing the HS agitation , they must consider to opt for other means to achieve our goal as every thing is fair in love and war and Gandhigiri may not be the right approach at least for such a government.

  2. The ESM's expectations for fulfillment of OROP promise by the NAMO Govt r for that big day 15 Aug 2015 as a last straw, let's c what happens ? Any way let not the Govt. test the patience any more, or else they may regret.

  3. Hopes are lost, I don't think this govt will fulfill its commitment, we are left dry and perched, these people are dangerous, politics means that only, presently,country is fighting terrorists, and these people are fighting in Parliament, they don't have any concern regarding people and the country, what can you expect from them, the other day one lady Parliamenterian asked for a raise in there salary, every member started thumping there benches, even speaker was requesting finance minister, and mind you that will get through, this govt is a failure as far as Iesms are concerned

  4. The source of the resistance to OROP other than the classical IAS struggle to keep the armed forces on a tight leash is the general impression expressed by the Finance Minister, though not directly that Defence expenditure ( capital or revenue) is wasteful and non productive expenditure. Defence expenditure is NOT wasteful expenditure. If you want the country to grow at 10% and above you first have to invest in the defence and their personnel at a higher rate in advance. Numerous studies on this aspect are already available. Defence expenditure and thence OROP and a good 7CPC are integral to the desired growth of the nation. We need to run a campaign on this aspect regularly so that in the future this is not a impediment. Ask any start up, does the cost of the firewall protection being installed initially and frequently updated, count as wasteful expenditure. It doesn't add to the bottom line but it is the only thing that ensures that you have a bottom line at all.

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