Saturday, October 2, 2010

More logic, less rhetoric to strike a better deal - Maj Navdeep Singh

Is atta-dal cheaper for a pensioner who retired in, say 1995, than an employee retiring today? Absolutely not. Then why should an old retiree be paid much less pension than an equally placed person retiring today in the same rank and with the same length of service? Legalese apart, this is the question that stares the present system in its face. But then, the logic is equally applicable not only to defence pensioners but to all pensioners irrespective of the service they retired from. And this is where I differ from some veteran organisations, which time and again bring in the talk of honour, valour and sacrifice of defence personnel while trivialising the roles of other occupations.

One rank—one pension (OROP), or more precisely “Equal pension for the same grade with same length of service”, is definitely an equitable and ideal concept and should be granted, but it should be extended in time to all pensioners irrespective of the service from which they retired. If the defence services deserve it earlier or in a different format than others, it is not because their contribution is more hallowed than civilian employees but because they retire younger, at times 25 years before their civilian counterparts, are at call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and definitely lead a tougher regimented life. Every service or occupation, however, has a role to perform in sustaining this nation and the thin line between pride and superiority should not be crossed.

The outrage and retort of some members during a recent popular TV talk show, when a professor of economics suggested that there were other professionals too such as firemen who faced occupational risks, again reflected a kind of hollow supremacy which we are unknowingly instilling within the military society and that is taking us further away from the real world. Perhaps, the example of a fireman was not apt, but there are others such as personnel of the Central Police Organisations who face similar risks and probably lead an even tougher life. The only intelligible differentia that can be logically put forth is that defence personnel retire earlier.

Of course, also fallacious was the argument of the professor that defence personnel should be granted higher pay but not greater pension because the nation cannot afford it. Perhaps the professor did not know that pension, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, is a “deferred wage” and a higher wage therefore has to rationally translate into higher pension. This fight should be won not by comparisons or running down others but by articulating a logical stance that is not easy to defy.

The idea should be to convince the government, the public and the nation as to why pensioners in general and defence pensioners in particular deserve a better deal. Though I do not agree with the oft-repeated conspiracy theory of the bureaucracy being always opposed to what defence personnel deserve, I can say it with conviction that mischievous elements at not-so-high-levels definitely have the ability to deceive the upper echelons of governance with misleading file notings on which there is no proper application of mind at the top but only affixing of initials as a mere formality. Or else nobody on earth could justify what has been labelled as “modified parity” or “rationalisation of pension structure”.

The difference of Rs 1,400 between the pension of a Captain and a Major as on December 31, 2005 has gone down to Rs 250 on January 1, 2006 after the Sixth Pay Commission, rather than increasing with the enhancement of scales, while the difference of Rs 950 between the pension of a Major and a time-scale Lieutenant Colonel has gone up to Rs 11,600.

As on date, the disability element of pension of a 100 per cent disabled officer holding the rank of a full General who retired on December 31, 2005 after 40 years of service is Rs 5,880 while the disability element of an officer of the same rank retiring a day later is Rs 27,000. In fact, a Lieutenant, the lowest commissioned rank, with one day of service released on January 1, 2006 gets a disability element of Rs 8,100 which is much more than that of a 100 per cent disabled General, the highest commissioned rank, who retired a day earlier. Probably it has been somehow established on file that an injury sustained in January 2006 is more agonising than the one sustained a day before!

The government may call it anything — modified parity or rationalisation, officialdom may put across a labyrinth of rulings and decisions to defend itself, but the net result is that the differentia between pre and post 2006 retirees is something that shakes the conscience. But how do we counter it — by rhetoric and presenting ourselves as “holier than thou” or by sound and logical reasoning?

The writer practises in the Punjab & Haryana High Court
(source- The Tribune)

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