Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Implications of the OROP Award Johnson Chacko
The Armed Forces were effectively in receipt of One Rank One Pension (OROP) till 1973. At that time they were included in the Central Pay Commission and not only was this provision discontinued, the pension of the majority of soldiers were brought down from 70% of the last drawn pay to 50%. The Armed Forces had been continuously trying to correct this since then without any resolution.
The Prime Minster had announced on many occasions that he is committed to OROP. The word of honour by the PM was accepted by the veterans. For Armed Forces personnel it was a matter of honour that he should implement it. Armed Forces and honour go hand in hand, for one is willing to get into a situation based on the word of his leader, when he fully well knows that he may not come out alive. He does not ask for orders in writing. So when the PM dithers in implementing his word, it agitates their mind and causes loss of respect for the PM and in their eyes he becomes a dishonorable man. It was an historic occasion on 5th September when the much awaited One Rank One Pension (OROP) award was declared by the Defence Minister flanked by the Minister of State for Defence, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Chiefs of all three Armed Forces and the Defence Secretary. One wonders why he had to be flanked by so many. Was it a message to the Armed Forces that what he declared had the sanction of their Chiefs?
The significant declaration was that the Government accepted the definition of OROP, recommended by the Koshyari Committee which was accepted by the Parliament (Legislature), which reflects the will of the people, as the basis for implementation of OROP. The Supreme Court (Judiciary) had also ordered its implementation after extensive judicial arguments. The Government (Executive) delayed the implementation even though the other two branches ordained it. It projects a situation of anarchy where the Executive does not honour the Parliament or the highest court of the land. The essence of the definition is that personnel who retire in the same rank and with the same length of service will get uniform pension. It also states that future enhancements in the rate of pension would be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. However, the succeeding conditions for implementation, negates this basic definition.
The Defence Minister has stated that extensive consultations were held with the Ex Servicemen and experts. However, save for the meeting with representatives of Ex Servicemen, just before the declaration, there does not appear to be any consultations on any serious matter. This appears to have been carried out after the declaration had been drafted, so that this aspect could have been included, as none of the other conditions that came out in the press had changed.
If future enhancements have to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners, it implies that anyone of the same rank with lesser number of years, as service rendered, will not get a higher pension for whatever be the reason, such as award of a future Pay Commission etc. If this has to be fulfilled then it becomes a dynamic process. The declaration states this will take place once in 5 years. The alibi that it is a humongous administrative task does not appear to hold as India is a software super power and a few clicks of the computer would give the results in a short time provided the database was available.
Under the OROP scheme, the benefits will be given from 1st July 2014 because the present Government took office on 26th May 2014. Even though the Ex Servicemen have accepted it, one wonders where the link is. It has nothing to do with scrapping of OROP in 1973 or to the services rendered by the Ex Servicemen.
The fixation of pension would be calculated on the base calendar year of 2013 where the average pension drawn by the pensioner would be the base, with a condition that pensioners drawing a higher pension will be protected. This could potentially violate the definition and its implication that a pensioner with lesser years of service may be fixed with a higher pension. The data for the latest year 2014 should be taken into consideration. A software programme could solve this issue.
The condition of voluntary retirement has been excluded from the ambit of OROP. This needs a deeper analysis. The Armed Forces personnel serve the Nation at the will and pleasure of the President (read Government) and there is nothing known as voluntary retirement. He can leave the Armed Forces prematurely, again at the will and pleasure of the President and it is known as premature retirement (PMR), mature retirement being superannuation. He has to apply for premature retirement and if the President so feels then it is approved. If he wants to leave the Armed Forces he has no right to do so. Often, he has no alternative employment arranged before he leaves as re-skilling is needed and since he is not certain when he will be granted premature retirement he cannot fine tune it with the time that the vacancy is available in the planned alternate employment. Employers don’t wait for him; the vacancy is given to someone else. They have to leave the service and then look for alternate employment with attendant uncertainties. Very few get a job that exploits his capabilities fully. The BJP spokes person appears to have been insensitive when he stated that “If they leave on their sweet will, why should the Government carry the burden”.
Armed Forces have a steep pyramidal structure where generally one in three is promoted. There have been cases where 72 or more officers have competed for 2 vacancies. If premature retirement is excluded from the scheme of OROP, then these superseded personnel will not seek premature retirement as they will lose out on OROP especially when they are old and when they need it the most. The Armed Forces will be saddled with these de-motivated personnel who will spread disenchantment within the organisation. That is not a good sign for a fighting force. If the soldier does not have a will to fight, no one can make him fight as it involves a possible loss of limb or life. This will be a major management issue that the Armed Forces will have to grapple with, besides other issues of outdated equipment and ill equipped troops. These personnel cannot be dismissed from the service, unless ordered by a court martial or by a dis-honorable administrative removal. An individual who leaves on PMR leaves his vacancy for a younger person and hence reduces the average age of the Armed forces. It will be good for the Nation in the long run if the Government includes PMR in the scheme of OROP. The PM has declared that this will be done. However, we need to await the fine print and analyse if it is included.
The Defence Minister stated an outlay of Rs 8,000 Cr to Rs 10,000Cr. It is stated to be a huge amount. If we consider the amount foregone or spent by the Government on various issues such as the schemes that turned into scams (Estimated at 5 Lakh Crores), refinancing of public sector banks – essentially a politically correct phrase for giving the banks money that have been siphoned off by cronies and euphemistically termed as Non Performing Assets (NPAs), or funding the Non Functional Upgrade (NFU) in the Civil Services wherein a person gets paid for not performing commensurate with the pay upgrade, then Rs 8,000 Cr to 10,000 Cr is a pittance. The NFU also becomes a part of calculations for their pension. There has been a lot of discussion on negotiations. The Armed Forces are demanding what was taken away from them in 1973. The question of negotiations as in a business deal, trying to find a middle ground does not exist. It is not a question of us versus them as they are a part of us. The effect of saving a few Crores will result in prolonged litigation and will snuff out the political goodwill that the BJP is likely to garner. There have been fears that other central government employees will also demand such a scheme. With NFU it is actually in force. Armed Forces cannot be compared to Civil Services just like the Judges and MPs are not compared with Civil Services or Armed Forces. Armed Forces are called in when Civil and Police Services fail. They succeed and hence they should get a higher remuneration. The Government should de-link Armed Forces from the ambit of Central Pay Commission and have a separate pay commission for them. This Pay Commission should grant at least 10-15% increase to the Armed Forces from what has been recommended in the Central Pay Commission in terms of pay and all allowances. At present the Central Armed Police Forces and Para-Military Forces enjoy higher pay and allowances than the Armed Forces. The majority of the pension budget for Defence Services is given to civilians paid out of Defence Services Estimates. On paper the budget amount appears large and one gets an impression that it goes to the veterans. Having a separate pay commission will ensure that the others don’t clamour for parity. The possibility of contributory pension schemes may be explored. In any case one third of the deserved salary is kept back by the Government to take care of pensions and so the Government servant gets lesser pay than his counterparts in the Civil.
The Nation has to look after its soldiers without the soldiers asking for their due. The status of a soldier in the society has to be of such a high order that people should be attracted to join it, for if there is no inner calling, no one can force a person to be in a violent situation. If the Armed Forces, who are supposed to protect the Nation, so that others can do their job peacefully, are denigrated, then what the Nation produces in terms of agriculture, manufacturing or services will be taken away by someone else. History is a witness to it. Chanakya had said that one sixth of the Kingdom’s revenue should be spent on its protection otherwise the protection will be inadequate. This principle is still valid and we are yet to reach that level since independence.
(Source- Via e-mail from Lt Col T Saibaba)