Sunday, October 4, 2015

Why is the term 'OROP', Anathema to some? by Brig AN Suryanarayanan (Retd) (Published in Fauji India, Oct 2015 Issue)

Faujis are comrades-in-arms sharing mutual trust, values, beliefs, and codes of conduct, willing to sacrifice own life for another, even to fetch a fallen comrade's body, unlike some uniformed personnel whose officers on tenure-basis, function from air-conditioned offices in faraway headquarters without any link with troops ahead. Everyone from a Jawan to a General takes a solemn oath to defend the nation internally and externally "even to the peril of my life". Thus a mutual bond of devotion and valour on the part of a soldier / sailor / airman draws affectionate admiration and respect for them in citizens' minds, who expect the Defence Forces to deliver when required, no matter whatever it takes.

The tortuous and torturous OROP struggle for 42 years has been for honour ('izzat') through equity in pension; but after medals of an octogenarian veteran were pulled by police in riot gear on14 Aug, tearing his shirt and making his blood-and-sweat-earned tranche of medals fall to the ground, the struggle has transformed into much more. To beat the model code of conduct for Bihar elections, Govt first circulated a draft to RSS on 4 Sep and then had a hurriedly arranged ‘press briefing’ by the Defence Minister the next day, terming it a press conference but allowing no questions. Since then, to propogate its ‘munificence’ to the veterans and to sow confusion in the minds of the gullible public, some favored journalists of various hues seem to have been briefed to write articles in newspapers. Reading them you realize, they are Rip Van Winkles woken up just when OROP, in whatever form, is about to fructify. Is it 'Penis envy' of the babus or ignorance of the writers? I think both. Some writers who refer to ‘serving’ personnel in the struggle are unaware that it is by RETIRED personnel alone and NOT a single serviceman has even visted the site.

Such articles display total ignorance of fauji ethos, psyche and way of life, besides the very origin and progress of the demand for four decades, which arose due to a feeling of lack of fair- play than seeking monetary gains. Why aren’t they covering the perfidy of the babus who waited for Manekshaw to retire and then in one fell swoop, brought the pay, status and pension of a victorious Indian Army many notches down in 1973? Indian army is of volunteers and not conscription. To attract new volunteers, terms of service, especially post-retirement have to be attractive and honorable. The present attrition rates and resultant vacancies are unacceptably high and need to be brought under control. Faujis are comrades-in-arms sharing mutual trust, values, beliefs, and codes of conduct, willing to sacrifice own life for another, even to fetch a fallen comrade’s body, unlike some uniformed personnel whose officers on tenure-basis, function from air-conditiioned offices in far away HQrs with -out any link with troops ahead. Everyone from a jawan to a General takes a solemn oath to defend the nation internally and externally “even to the peril of my life”. Thus a mutual bond of devotion and valour on the part of a soldier/sailor/airman draws affectionate admiration and respect for them in citizens’ minds, who expect the Defence Forces to deliver when required, no matter whatever it takes.

One writer wonders about not ‘going through the intervening stages of OROP being widely understood and debated’. Obviously he hasn’t read any of the zillion articles in various media in the past 17 months alone; just wikipedia would have wisened him! Hon’ble SC had in DS Nakara case (1983) had ruled different pensions for the same rank and length of service as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It re-inforced the same in Maj Gen SPS Vains' case (2008), when OROP was held to be ‘legitimate’. To call it ‘completely illogical and intellectually unsustainable’ is unfortuna-tely passing those epithets to the SC! Too late to wake up and smell the coffee.  One writer wishes to see the analysis of fund flow while another queries as to how to monetise every service, and yet another loses sleep over 'cost of OROP' while simultaneously wondering illogically, why CAPF/PMF are not getting it, as though the cost will magically come down with more numbers! He forgets another treachery by the babus. After the VI CPC, when cabinet  cleared  in 2008, two additional increments for IAS officers for a limited period, the wily babus gave themselves four, which would stay throughout service period. This ensures not only that junior IAS officers draw more than their seniors in other services but the latter who were drawing the same pay as their IAS counterparts would get less. Not satisfied with this, the babus gave themselves by a sleight-of- hand, Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU), which in simple terms means: getting paid even more for not working, while simultaneously reaching Apex grade before retirement, whence it turns OROP. For the babu, pay indicates status but he doesn’t know, eg, that there are 172 government servants in Britain who earn more than their Prime Minister. There the CGS gets an annual salary of £160-165,000, while the PM £142,000 (including £67,060 MP's salary).  Can CGS refuse to obey the PM? 

Does the writer who suggests no OROP for the forces wish to place a price on nation’s security? Defence Pension Budget of Rs 54000 crore for FY 2015-16 includes Rs 32,000 crores for 4 lakh civilians in defence and ordnance factories. Balance 22,000 crores is all that is available for 26 lakh ESM and 6 lakh widows. He feels Rs 12000 crores is unaffordable but forgets it is retrospective arrears from Apr 2014 till Sep 2015 payable one time. The more the delay, higher the amount will be. He probably wants ‘Return on Investement’. That reminds me of an audit objection in a formation, where money had been spent on purchasng Fire Fighting Equipment. Audit found it had not been used in the accounting year, so raised an objection. It had to be explained that it was a precautionary provision and that more loss to men and material would have occurred had there been a fire. Those who ask the veterans to remember that poor people of India have contributed to OROP must also remember, so have they for the four increments (ibid); NFFU; Apex scales; black-cat/PSOs and siren-blaring white-SUV-convoys; subsidized food in parliament canteen; study tours abroad even during floods and famine; medical care abroad for not only VVIPs and families but babus, their families and attendants; write-off of NPAs in banks and for Rs 40000 Cr MAT waiver to corporates and many more, none of which can protect our mother-land. It is the soldier alone in his prime who can. Then why grudge it for soldiers? On 12 Sep, Defence Minister Parrikar clarified that ‘OROP is merely 2.29 per cent of the total defence outlay’, and former FM Chidambaram stated 'the promise of OROP must prevail over the objections’ and that RBI has transferred almost Rs 81,000 Cr surplus to Government. 

One writer states ‘OROP itself has many definitions’, displaying ignorance of a Parliamentary (Koshiyari) Committee definition of 19 Dec 2011 as accepted and announced in two parliaments. There is just ONE definition: "the grant of equal pension to soldiers of a particular rank, who have rendered the same length of service, irrespective of the date of their retirement, with future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners". Since 1947 and especially since 1973, soldiers alone have lost out on status (thus izzat) and money and a point had been reached in 2008, when they felt their due must be given, come hell or high water. Regarding equivalent pay-scales in an article, for example, a Lt Col is shown against a District Magistrate. I am sure the writer hasn't noticed the consistent downgrading in Warrant of Precedence of defence officers, over the years by the babus by simple office memoranda. Technically, Ministry of Home Affairs says there is no change in WoP, but the situation on ground indicates otherwise. That is why 37 years ago, the then Adjutant General issued a letter of advice to officers showing relative status of Army-IAS-IPS asking army officers not to attend functions where it wasn't maintained.  

A reference to army controlling own promotions and opportunities of faster promotions/delayed promotions for punitive reasons was made in an article. Punitive action happens due to the application of Army Act, an additional fetter for a soldier. There is NO faster promotion for officers. For outstanding sportsmanship or gallantry, Junior/Non-commissioned Officer or a sepoy may jump one level, but that happens just once in many years in an army of 13 lakhs. He says:Govt of India can't be blamed for discrepancies in promotions, but is ignorant that senior officers' promotions recommended by top most echelon of army have to pass through hands of mischievous babus to the Defence Minister/government. 

While all IAS/IPS officials reach the Jt Secretary's level and most, the apex scale too, in a cylindrical hierarchy, only a miniscule 0.00025% of total strength reaches that level in a narrow defence pyramid. 

One writer asks why not OROP for CAPF/BSF &CRPF personnel do put themselves in harm's way but only till the situation is handed over to the army soonest and in any case, are withdrawn from forward-most line immediately on hostilities. Each of them retires at age 57 and more. They have got NFFU from the SC recently. Only a financial wizard can work out what it would involve for the multifarious police organizations. A jawan retiring at 35-37 not only misses out on pay for those additional 20-22 years but the two or three Central Pay Commission awards, besides suffering reluctance on every government's part to absorb them laterally. If khaki wishes to be on par with olive-green, let them first agree to take other khakis as equals, eg, Home Guards. Just a nasty example : in UP, 255 persons qualified as Ph D applied for peon’s posts. Assuming they get absorbed as peons, would all other Ph D pay be brought to peons’ pay or vice versa? Wearing a uniform and standing guard at the borders so as to relieve the Army for training does not entitle CAPF to claim the same status; they are withdrawn to the rear immediately when the balloon goes up, as their age profile does not match the younger army. Can a 52 year-old CAPF constable assault over a minefield at the double up a hill, like a 25-30 year old soldier? Due to frequent calling out of the army for sundry tasks: pulling kids from wells; flag marches for aid to civil, flood relief, quake relief and many more, which are NOT their basic tasks, an impression has been created in the minds of  the ignorant that CAPF=Army!

Another query is on why OROP for those on VRS. This is total ignorance as VRS was discussed decades ago for Defence but shelved. Defence forces have only 'Premature Retirement' (PMR) on certain specified grounds, where none can quit or resign at the drop of a hat like their civilian counterparts (some even fleeing abroad and sending resignations from there, after extended ‘lucrative’ tenure)! After sacrificing their youth for the defence of the nation and one or more wars, if, say, a Lt Col gets passed over in two successive promotion boards rarely will he make it in the final (third) one. Aged 38, he would then have about 14 years' service and can quit in 2 years after minimum pensionable service of 20 years. Were he to continue till superannuation at 52, he will get full pay plus increments due, besides benefit of at least one pay commission but with very limited employability and will be a burden on the organization and not a motivator to subordinates for whom he is to set an example. Also, a clause exists by which he is compulsorily transferred to Regular Reserve of Officers (RRO) till the original date of superannuation and has to resume combat in an emergency, if called up. Thus having done min. pensionable service as per Defence Service (Pension) Regs, he becomes legally entitled to OROP, even if he quit at own request. Incidentally, as mentioned by someone, there can be no illegal quitting in defence forces, as Army Act for ‘desertion’ will apply.

Another question is why Govt didn’t ask veterans to discontinue their agitation, before its announcement. The writer forgets that all that the veterans asked for was "a date of implementation" and a meeting with PM.  Why should they have discontinued if even that wasn’t granted? After 14 Aug and 05 Sep events, it will get only shriller, till implementation as per accepted definition.

One writer lists all allowances of faujis, forgetting that babus and police/CAPF too get all applicable allowances and most of them at a higher rate! I would draw his attention to ‘Brochure on Pay and Allowances of Central Government Civilian Employees’ by Pay Research Unit ( Overtime Allowance, Special Pay & deputation (Duty) allowance, Composite Hill Compensatory Allowance, Other Compensatory Allowances, Productivity Linked Bonus, Ad hoc Bonus, Honorarium etc.  One writer’s reference to army hospitals is an inherently foolish argument; army schools and colleges are established by army’s internal funds and NOT public funds. He includes subsidised food (meaning entitled rations for nourishment) and beverages (meaning CSD): a specious argument as CAPF and Police have started canteen facilities too; Airline & railway personnel get free passes even after retirement, etc: everything goes with the territory. Army personnel don’t get Ashok Chakra for death in terrorist action abroad nor get a flat/land and job for next-of-kin or Rs 65 lakhs for death in unsoldierly patrolling in Naxal areas. All their allowances including compensation on death are much lower vis-a-vis Civil services and CAPF. One writer pleads for teachers, miners and doctors, but forgets all of them work for just 8 hours in 24 and can/do go on strike at the drop of a hat; but a soldier can’t as he is on call 24/7/365 and is subject to Army Act.

          The tussle on OROP has brought civil-beauracratic-military relations to a new low and needs to be attended to urgently, lest it affects serving personnel: a dangerous portent.

Commissioned in June 1962, Surya has had an impressive career right through, including Instructor in School of Artillery and DSSC and has participated in Indo Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971. While a Brigadier, did MBA at age 49 winning the gold medal, simulta-neously standing University First in M. Sc.(Int’l Relations & Def Studies). Two domestic tragedies forced him to hang up his boots in 1995. He has travelled widely around the world, after retirement. Writes Middles/Musings regularly in Deccan Herald, Tribune and Silver Talkies (e magazine for the seniors); Travel Articles in Deccan Chronicle & Asian Age and ESM-related ones in Fauji Magazine. His Book:'Straight Trees Are Cut First’ on army's discipline & justice system was published by Manas Publications in 2009. He has just self-published a second book: "Many Laughs and a Few Tears". A golfer and voracious reader of magazines and fiction, is fond of soft instrumental music and does Interviewing Consultancy occasionally. His blog @ has his writings and some of his Modelling snaps!

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