Sunday, August 9, 2015

Broken Promise: Disdain For A Trusted Institution By S.G.Vombatkere

08 August, 2015
One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP) was coined by Veterans of the Indian Armed Forces – the army, navy and airforce, collectively called the “Fauj” - to indicate what they have been demanding since the 1980s. “OROP” is used by Veterans to unambiguously state the concept: “uniform pension for military personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement, and any future enhancement in the rates of pension be automatically passed on to past pensioners”, the meaning and import of which has been understood by successive parliaments and successive governments.
The reason for use of the word “military” is that over 90% of Faujis are soldiers who are compulsorily retired with a meagre pension (less than Group 'D' government employees) at 35-37 years of age, so that the fighting force remains young, with the vigour, strength and stamina required in battle. Indeed, the generic term for the Indian soldier is “Jawan”, which means “youth”. This does not apply to any other service in India, armed or unarmed, uniformed or not.
The reason for demanding OROP is to overcome the double disadvantage of soldiers who receive basic pension based upon the Central Pay Commission (CPC) in force at time of retirement – they are compulsorily retired at age 35 years, thus denied earnings upto age 60 available to all non-military pensioners, and their basic pension is not upgraded with increased pensions of subsequent CPCs.
The promise
Mr.Modi had no doubt what was meant by OROP because, in his campaign for the 2014 general elections, he had explicitly promised OROP to Veterans. Later as PM, he again promised OROP when addressing serving troops at Siachen glacier, knowing full well that these Jawans would soon be Veterans.
But latterly, Mr.Modi has remained silent on OROP after stating that he had doubts about the definition of OROP. While it is true that, not unlike his predecessor, he is silent on many other important issues, his silence on OROP is strongly demotivating for both serving faujis and Veterans. It is surprising that the gravity of his silence on OROP in its national security implications is not understood by a person of his political acumen.
Recent developments
On 31 March 2014, a 3-Judge Bench of the Apex Court ruled [“One rank one pension for HC judges, rules Supreme Court”; “The Hindu”; New Delhi, April 1, 2014; that “there should not be any disparity in the pension of High Court judges, irrespective of the source from where they are drawn“, and that the disparity was “was highly discriminatory and breach of Article 14“. The Court also pointed out that due to such disparity, “... the quality of justice declines”. The Bench thus ruled, “One rank, one pension must be the norm in respect of a constitutional office“, and directed government to amend the rules so as to implement OROP for the judiciary. The norm of “one-rank-one-pension” applicable to the judiciary to remove pension disparity between judges is unambiguous, even if used in the context of a constitutional office.
Less than 18 months after the Apex Court's direction of 2014, government proposed to table a Bill in the Lok Sabha monsoon session, to amend the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1954, “to rectify an anomaly that leaves High Court judges to draw lesser pension than those elevated from state judicial services“. [“One rank, one pension for HC judges, govt to amend law”; “The Tribune”; Chandigarh, July 14, 2015-
A question of trust
Today's ambience is one of unprincipled politicking by political parties, causing crumbling of national institutions, all to the national detriment. The public is disgusted at the wholesale corruption in government organs, and public trust in national institutions is at an all-time low. In this ambience, it is apt to quote from a report titled “Democracy in India: A Citizens’ Perspective”: “As in 2005, political parties were the least trusted political institutions, and the police the least trusted unelected institution. Trust in Parliament, while low, rose between 2005 and 2013, while the Army continued to be the most trusted institution. The civil service was perceived as the most corrupt, more so than local, State and Central governments“. [“Many have faith in unelected bodies, but India values dissent“; “The Hindu”, New Delhi, August 8, 2015; . The term “Army” obviously refers to the Fauj, and the results are arguably correct today even though the survey pertains to 2013.
Most corrupt versus the most trusted
Politically emasculating his own ministers soon after taking oath of office, PM Modi directed senior bureaucrats to report directly to the PMO. Thus, especially after Mr.Modi's own promises, the entire responsibility for not implementing OROP lies squarely on the PM and his bureaucrat advisers. And, as with previous governments, OROP for the fauj, the most trusted institution in India, is being consistently denied by politicians who are in a nexus with the publicly-named “most corrupt” civil service.
While there is no copyright on the term “OROP”, the irony is that in just 18 months, government is amending the law to grant OROP to the judiciary, while even 18 years after coining the phrase, disillusioned Veterans are staging satyagraha with no light at the end of the tunnel of arrogant bureaucratic malfeasance over a supposedly decisive PM.
Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired in 1996 as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG's Branch. He holds a PhD degree in Structural Dynamics from I.I.T, Madras. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, in international studies. With over 400 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his current area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.

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