Monday, January 4, 2016
OROP must go hand in hand with force restructuring
Finally, the One Rank One Pension, or OROP, is a reality, even if its content and financial impact continues to remain imprecise. It is a different matter that several important conditions not discussed with those agitating for OROP have been incorporated at the last minute and caused both frustration and anguish.
For example, it is not known how the clause for its non-applicability to those who had taken voluntary retirement (termed premature retirement or PMR in the armed forces) came to be incorporated in the official note at the last minute. Similarly, a provision has been inserted whereby pension will be determined by averaging the minimum and maximum of the pay bands for every rank, which is not OROP at all. It is almost certain that these two incongruities, which could only have been inserted through bureaucratic sleight of hand, will be challenged and struck down in the courts of law. The statements made by the prime minister create more doubt than clarity. For example, he has stressed that interests of jawans, widows and those disabled and sent out of service are uppermost in his mind and they will have full benefits of OROP, without making any mention of those who took PMR. If there is a lurking suspicion among these officers that they have been left 'high and dry' they may not be far wrong.
But this is not about OROP. Whatever may be its final shape and form, the fact is that it will result in a cash outgo of over Rs 12,000 crores annually, and the figure can only increase every year. The question that more importantly needs to be considered is whether this expense can be countered by economies that can or should be undertaken in the non-pension parts of Defence expenditure. This calls for some introspection, including by the armed forces. Until 1962, the strength of the Indian Army, post-World War II demobilisation, stood at around 285,000, the Indian Navy at about 16,000 and the Indian Air Force at some 30,000. Following the trauma of that conflict, the Army was authorised a manpower level of 825,000, a nearly three-fold increase so that it could fight a two-front war concurrently. Force levels approved for the navy and the air force at the same time (in 1964) ensured that, over a period of time, their manpower rose to about 35,000 and 60,000 respectively. Since then, the numbers have continued to increase for one reason or the other and the Indian Army today fields nearly 1,200,000, while the other two Services have also gone up to about 50,000 and 100,000, take a little here and there. In sum, uniformed manpower has increased greatly, with inevitable impact on ongoing expenditure that is required to pay, feed and equip them; not surprisingly, nearly 85 per cent of the army's budget goes to meet what is technically termed as revenue expenditure, leaving just 15 per cent for modernisation and technology upgrades and, therefore, leaving it to fight wars with 'what it has' - to quote a former Army Chief - rather than with what it should have. The navy and the air force are not so manpower-intensive and, consequently, are able to spend relatively more of their monetary allocations on capital acquisitions. What merits serious consideration, therefore, is whether we should continue as hitherto or make some course corrections.
Obviously, the first charge in any such exercise will be that of the army taking up as it does, almost half of the Defence budget. This brings us back to where it all began - ability and preparedness to fight land wars on two fronts simultaneously, on one side with Pakistan and on the other, with China. This may well have seemed inescapable after 1962 but despite all posturing and noises made by various sides, did not come about in 1965 and again in 1971, this when Pakistan was being militarily sliced into two, a calamity which should have resulted in some intervention by its ally. Today, the scenarios have changed dramatically. Not only are all three countries nuclear weapon states but their profiles and ambitions have also escalated. China is seeking parity with the US while India seeks to get to the level where China stands today. Neither country will move towards its goals by engaging the other militarily; such an interface can only act to the detriment of both. Pakistan stands in a different category. It has little capability, even interest, in challenging India through war; its aim of keeping us on the defensive is easily achieved by much lower-cost options such as acts of terror, sponsored or otherwise. The world at large is also not supportive of military conflicts between nation states and international pressure, difficult enough to counter in the wars fought so far, will be even more of an 'adversary' in future scenarios. In short, military conflict on one front is, itself, becoming a question mark, leave alone land wars on two fronts together. Our military strategy must recognise this reality.
The situation is quite different in the other two Services where the responsibilities are becoming more strategic rather than structured to just war fighting. The need to deploy air and sea power at long distances, in peace as much as in less-than-war scenarios is gaining priority and recent evacuations of our citizens from troubled areas, disaster assistance in tsunamis and protection of sea lanes of commerce are now well-defined tasks and responsibilities, not just some vague ideas. Our existing force structure, evolved in the 1960s after a traumatic defeat, is no longer capable of responding to the new scenario. There is a definite need to review holistically our emerging interests and responsibilities and formulate policies which will provide capabilities that can deliver what the Americans call 'more bang for the buck'. Manpower or 'boots on the ground' is clearly an essential ingredient of whatever capabilities we create but how many is the question which our planners and strategists must answer. It is nobody's thesis that drastic reductions are necessary or even desirable but phased restructuring is imperative. Given the extent of our land borders, the army will continue to have primacy in our military preparedness but it is necessary that the air and sea power arms are strengthened.
As a very broad readjustment, our land component of manpower should be gradually brought down to about 1,000,000. To achieve this over a four-five year period is quite feasible if there is determination to do so. Fresh stock can be taken at that stage of what needs to be done further. This, of course, must go hand-in-glove with modernisation of all three forces and enough has been written about this by many to bear repetition.
But this is much easier said than done. There will be any number of vested interests to 'ground' the proposed restructuring even before it begins and the strongest direction will be needed to take it through, in the armed forces hierarchy, in the associated bureaucracy and finally, and most important, in the political leadership.