Saturday, June 13, 2015

The OROP imbroglio - The Prime Minister needs to take a call : By Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (retd)

 Posted at: Jun 13 2015 12:51AM

The OROP imbroglio
For an emerging global power it is an unhappy spectacle to see its veterans holding a public protest

One rank, one pension’, or its acronym OROP, is a household term today. Even those who do not understand its nuances know that some issue called OROP is stuck. This is an update on its status. 
The concept of OROP first surfaced in the early 1980s. Retired Maj Gen RS 'Sparrow', then a Member of Parliament, explained it in the House in very plain terms.  The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, understood and immediately ordered a committee to examine the issue.  Unfortunately, before the scheme could be implemented, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Since then OROP has been on a simmer, consistently opposed by the bureaucracy and denied by successive governments. In 2008, in the wake of the Sixth Pay Commission report coming out, we raised the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement and gave OROP a renewed  impetus.
It is neither good for the country nor is it in the military ethos   to air one's demands in public. We explored every possibility to avoid taking to the streets. This writer personally met the Prime Minister in April 2008 and implored him to treat OROP with due urgency. Unfortunately, he showed no inclination. When every attempt failed to move the government, the first public demonstration was held on April 27, 2008. After that there was no looking back. The protests included even depositing our hard-earned medals; over 20,000 of these are still lying in a government store.       
What is OROP? It is payment of the same pension to military retirees of the same rank and same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Further, any future enhancement in pension is to be automatically passed on to the old pensioners. This definition stands accepted by the Koshyari Committee and both the UPA government and the NDA have accepted it on the floor of the House. Based on two simple parameters of rank and total length of service, this definition is easy to understand and implement. Besides, it has the widest acceptance.  
And why are only the military pensioners demanding it? It needs to be remembered that pensions are increased during pay commissions constituted every 10 years. As of now this enhancement is given only prospectively. The gap between the old and new pensions keeps increasing.
The defence forces are required to keep a youthful profile. Its members are therefore retired early. Nearly 85% of military personnel are sent home before they reach the age of 40. It is not difficult to visualise the mental trauma one suffers on being thrown out of a job when one's financial needs are at their peak. There isn't and cannot be any compensation for this. At least in financial terms there should be some recompense. A defence retiree on an average sees four to five pay commissions in his life time and suffers the widening gap severally. OROP is designed to keep his pension equated with the new retirees and thus give him at least some relief in financial terms. 
Where does OROP stand now? After our protest had gone on for close to six years, the then Finance Minister announced its grant on February 17, 2014. The scheme was to take effect from April 1, 2014. It has been nearly 16 months but OROP has still not been implemented. The BJP had included the grant of OROP in its manifesto during the 2014 general election. Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared his government’s commitment on OROP at many public meetings. He also repeated it in his recent interview to The Tribune  and during his 'Man ki Baat' radio broadcast on  May 31, 2015. After a joint meeting between the Service Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence in February 2015 modalities based on the accepted definition were worked out. The Defence Minister has reportedly approved it. The total annual financial outlay comes to nearly Rs 8,300 crore. 
It is learnt that the Finance Ministry has raised some objections. One possible change they wish to insert is to base OROP on service in the last rank held instead of total service as it would bring down the annual expenditure to some Rs 5,400 crore rupees. However, this would not be just and fair.   The promotions  of  Junior Commissioned Officers and below, who constitute 96% of the total strength,  are decentralised to a unit level and are subject to the availability of vacancies. In one unit ‘A’may be promoted Havildar in 16 years while in another unit 'B' may take 20 years. Since Havildars retire at a fixed service of 24 years, ‘A’ would have earned relatively higher salary for four additional years. If the criterion of service in the last rank is followed, 'A' would also get a higher pension for a life time; a double whammy for 'B'. Even among officers, a junior often picks up his higher rank ahead of a senior due to various administrative constraints and the same problem would occur.   The criterion of service in the last rank therefore is grossly unjust and will not find acceptance among the pensioners.  
There has also been talk recently of the Central Police Forces demanding OROP. They are our own people and not adversaries. But the early retirement, the only plank on which OROP demand rests, is not applicable to them. Let me repeat what I had told the Prime Minister in 2008 when he raised the same apprehension: “Let all defence employees be kept in government service till the age of 60 like everyone else. We will then not need OROP”.
The veterans have full faith in the Prime Minister's assurance and are certain OROP will come. However, the date of its final implementation remains in the penumbra. With the inordinate delay the veterans are getting edgy. They have already announced the restart of  their protest from June 14.  For an emerging global power it would be an unhappy spectacle to see its veterans holding a public protest.  The Prime Minister needs to take a call. Urgently.     
The writer is the Chairman, Indian Ex Servicemen Movement


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