Monday, October 19, 2015
AN OR(OP)WELLIAN SAGA - BY T R RAMASWAMI - A BANKER, AN ECONOMIST FROM MUMBAI 8 Oct 2015
Whenever and in whatever form OROP comes, it has brought several hidden issues and questions to the forefront. Having become the most frequently used four letter word, its impact will hit hard in the next two decades.
A 42 year issue is entering its final stages. Several key issues have been missed or deliberately omitted, both by the parties to the issue and the media. But the tax payer needs to know as it is he who is footing the bill.
In 1973 armed forces pension were cut from 70% to 50% of basic. OROP was dangled to assuage protests. The then chiefs could have rightly said - cut the pension from the date you implement OROP and not before that. Any court would have agreed to this.
But this pension cut hides a tale of skulduggery. If armed forces pension was cut in the name of austerity, the principle could not have been argued against. But where did this cut go? It went to the chefs of the cut – the bureaucracy, who hiked their pension from 30% to 50% – a whopping 66%! This is a classic case where the front line soldier, Peter, was robbed to pay the air-conditioned file pushing Paul. And all with the active connivance of the political class. And witness how this ‘grate’ful civil and police service grated in front of the netas during emergency. This you scratch me, I scratch you, has continued ever since.
All soldiers and their widows who died between 1973 and today, without seeing OROP, have paid for the greed of the civil service and this has not been highlighted for obvious reasons. If OROP is costly then why not reverse the costs – reduce the pensions of the civil service to pay for the soldiers – for the next 42 years.
But in as much as the soldier may blame others, the fact is that his own commanders have also let him down. Starting with the chiefs in 1973 who had the best chance of doing anything, successive chiefs hardly made any attempt to resolve the issue. But the cruellest stab was made by these very chiefs, when in 2008 OROP was brought in to benefit Judges, civil services and armed forces belonging to the HAG (Higher Administrative Scale). It was done surreptitiously and quietly. And as far as the shameless generals are concerned, the motto on Chetwode Hall is only for giving ‘moral lectures’ in staff colleges and while addressing troops. The motto has been reversed in toto and it effects are beginning to show within the serving army and though not public, the palpitations in the top rungs are visible to those who know how to see.
OROP has unwittingly brought several other issues to the fore. These are likely to clash when the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations are out. The first is – what should be the cap on expenses paid as salaries/pensions from the Consolidated Fund of India? Next, why do the armed forces NOT have representation in the commission? Next, should there be any differential in the various cadres and if so why? We always see the armed forces being called out when the others created a snafu. Calling the army “to assist the civil services” means the political leadership, civil service and the police have miserably failed. If the armed forces are the force of last resort, then surely they must rank the highest in the salary structure.
There is talk that the police, para military forces etc also doing an equally risky job. Is it ? Then let the BSF guard the border, let the police tackle naxalites and insurgents and terrorists. The army will withdraw to the barracks and emerge when an official war is declared. Finally repeal AFSPA. Do the powers that be have the courage for all this ?
For a long time because of the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts, the silenced media and the lack of alternate publicity, kept the OROP issue under wraps. Today it is the most frequently used four letter word.
In the last few years, net based social media and other alternatives have surmounted these impediments. And the results are there to see like the 12th. September gathering that was bigger than any other, with government forced to stop vehicles and even pedestrians. The “free” media was also nowhere.
The political class and bureaucracy have not only mishandled the situation but have even created an undercurrent in the serving forces. The bloodlines between the serving personnel and veterans are as high as 80%-90%. We will see the results in less than a decade. The process is irreversible.
Why only the cost of the bureaucracy and the armed forces? We also need to look at the cost of democracy itself – i.e. what we pay our legislators. Are we paying them for frittering away an entire session? Are we paying them for attendance that in a college would disqualify a student from writing the exams? What are their pension rules? How does their wealth multiply 500% in five years? It is time that these questions are asked.
And lastly, before asking the UN to define terrorism, at least accept definitions given by the Supreme Court and a Parliamentary Committee on OROP.
(SOURCE- VIA GP E-MAIL)