Green sigl to OROP, but challenges ahead
With the Central government announcing that ‘One Rank, One Pension’ (OROP) scheme for the armed forces will be implemented, a political war of words has expectedly begun to hog the credit. The Congress has termed the rendra Modi government’s announcement a ‘betrayal’, alleging that the purported benefits will elude 46 per cent ex-servicemen. Congress leaders like AK Antony and Kapil Sibal have pointed out that the UPA government had accepted OROP last year itself, put aside Rs 500 crores in the general budget, constituted an expert committee to study how the scheme will be implemented, had hiked ex-servicemen’s pension on three occasions from 2004 to 2012 and spent Rs.7,000 crore. In turn, Prime Minister Modi has poured scorn upon the Congress for ‘playing politics’, that ‘those who didn’t do anything for 40 years have no right to speak on behalf of jawans.’ Both the NDA and the UPA are anxious to score points with the ex-servicemen bloc which is 28 lakh strong, and increasing every year. The BJP had made OROP a campaign issue in the 2014 elections, promising to implement it in 100 days. So there was much chagrin among ex-servicemen when Prime Minister Modi made no mention of it in his Independence Day address this year. Ex-servicemen are still not ‘completely satisfied’ even after the government’s announcement, agreeing to break off their fast at Jantar Mantar but vowing to carry on their agitation.
For four decades, a mix of bureaucrats vs servicemen rivalry, government apathy and fear of sheer fincial burden allowed the OROP demand to snowball into a major emotive issue in the Lok Sabha elections last year. Back in 1973, the Third Pay Commission did away with the existing system of fixing emoluments of the armed forces by departmental committees, including representatives of the services, on the basis of recommendations made by Pay Commissions for civilian employees. The general practice was pension of armed forces at 70 per cent and civilian employees at 30 per cent of last pay drawn. This was to compensate for the compulsory early retirement of armed forces personnel as compared to civilian employees. However the Third Pay Commission made the pension percentage equal at 50 per cent. The reality is that 85 per cent soldiers are compulsorily retired at 35-37 years and another nearly 13 per cent soldiers at 40-54 years of age. So only about 2 per cent defence personnel get to retire at 60 years, while all civilian employees not only retire at 60 years but get to enjoy the benefits of 3-4 Pay Commissions during their service tenure. Ex-servicemen complain that while they draw 50 percent of their last salary as pension after serving a minimum twenty years, the pension amount is considerably different for same rank holders retiring at different years. In the armed forces, rank counts as much as length of service does. So the demand has been that the same rank and with same length of service should get the same pension, irrespective of date of retirement, while any future enhancement in pension rates should be automatically passed on to past pensioners.
This central demand means that defence personnel should get the benefit of changes in salary even after their retirement. The conventiol logic for civilians is that pension is given for their services rendered when they were working, and therefore correlated to salary received by them in the past — not to future salary of future staff. But this logic cannot be applied to defence personnel, because most of them have to retire before 40 as the country needs a young armed force. So after giving up their prime years in guarding the tion’s frontiers and quelling interl rebellions, servicemen have bleak job prospects after they retire, when they still have much of life left and family burdens to shoulder. Another sad reality is that more than 45 per cent defence personnel are forced to retire before completing the minimum 20 years service, because of crippling injuries or lack of promotion. For such ex-servicemen availing of voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) — there was the alarming talk of not qualifying for the OROP scheme at all. Fortutely, the Prime Minister has now scotched these suspicions by announcing that soldiers forced to retire prematurely too will be covered under the scheme. The new pension rates for servicemen will now be calculated with 2013 as the base year, and will be revised every five years. Overall, the fincial outgo for OROP scheme will be Rs.8,000-10,000 crore, with the arrears amounting to around Rs.12,000 crore — which explains why the previous governments at the Centre sat over the demand. The NDA government will not only have to make allowance for the OROP expenditure, but also brace for similar demands likely from other Central paramilitary forces in the coming days.