On pensions, it is rank injustice

The euphoria generated by Narendra Modi’s election promise of One Rank One Pension is fast dissipating

Updated - July 22, 2014 01:00 am IST

Published - July 22, 2014 12:59 am IST

DISILLUSIONED: Between 2009 and 2011, some 22,000 medals were returned by ex-servicemen and war widows to the President in protest against non-implementation of OROP. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

DISILLUSIONED: Between 2009 and 2011, some 22,000 medals were returned by ex-servicemen and war widows to the President in protest against non-implementation of OROP. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

With Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley setting aside only Rs. 1000 crore for One Rank One Pension (OROP), there is disquiet within the defence fraternity combined with apprehension that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pre-election commitment to give soldiers this long-pending entitlement may perhaps be diluted yet again.

“We reaffirm our commitment to our brave soldiers. A policy of One Rank One Pension has been adopted by the government to address pension disparities. We propose to set aside a further sum of Rs.1,000 crore to meet the year’s requirement,” Mr. Jaitley said in his budget speech. He followed it up with a meeting on June 12 that was attended by three service chiefs, officers from the defence service headquarters, top officials from Defence Aaccounts and the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) under the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and representatives of four major ex-servicemen organisations to deliberate on the modalities. The meeting ended in an impasse as differences over the very definition of OROP and the consequent impact on payment of pensions emerged between the departments of the MoD on the one side and the service headquarters and military veterans on the other.

The accepted definition Speaking to The Hindu , Maj Gen. (retd.) Satbir Singh, Chairman of the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement (IESM), who was present at the meeting, said: “We understand that processes in the government take time. But after the meeting we have begun to doubt the government’s intentions because it appears to be succumbing to the confusion deliberately created by the civilian bureaucracy, represented by the MoD, to scuttle OROP.” The ex-servicemen fraternity has roped in former Army Chief Gen. (retd.) V.K. Singh, now a Minister in the Modi government, to mediate on its behalf. Maj Gen. Satbir Singh is among those who threw the weight of the five lakh-strong IESM behind the Bharatiya Janata Party because Mr. Modi made commitments on several issues of interest to ex-servicemen, chief among them being OROP.

A common refrain among veterans is that they are being asked to scale down their entitlement when the definition of OROP has already been accepted by the government

The definition of OROP, given by former Defence Minister A.K. Antony in February this year and accepted by the government, is the same as the one that was accepted by the Petition Committee of Rajya Sabha on OROP, which was chaired by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. The Committee presented its report in December 2011. According to this definition, “OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to Armed Forces 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 to be automatically passed on to past pensioners. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pensions of the current pensioners and the past pensioners and also future enhancements in the rate of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.” According to the Koshiyari Committee’s calculation, Rs.3,000 crore would be needed to implement this. With 10 per cent inflation this year, it is now estimated to be about Rs. 4,000 crore. The UPA government had earmarked Rs.500 crore with additional funds, as per requirements, to be made later. It was also accepted that disabled and family pensioners will be included.

Now, however, an alternate model has been floated by the departments of the MoD, namely the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA), the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions) or PCDA, and the DESW. They have proposed that pensioners before 2006 be paid pensions that were given at the start of the Sixth Pay Commission (on January 1, 2006). This will mean that a sepoy who retired prior to 2006 and who was receiving a pension of Rs.5,196 a month, would receive Rs.6,450, according to this model, instead of the Rs.8,349 that a sepoy who retired in 2014 would receive. A common refrain among veterans is that they “are being asked to scale down [their] requirement when the correct definition of OROP has already been accepted by the government.”

The alternative model Lt. Gen. (retd.) S.K. Bahri, who is heading the Alliance of Ex Servicemen Organisations, has pointed out in a letter sent last week to the Defence Minister: “The common refrain among ex-servicemen is that the MoD will delay if not totally deny their dues as they have been able to even disregard judgements of the Supreme Court for four long years. The MoD should categorically state that there will be no dilution in the definition of OROP, and funds for making payments will be fully available.”

The veterans have also apprised Mr. Jaitley about their suspicion that the alternate model had been worked on by the DESW and the Defence Accounts Departments in conjunction with the UPA government to delay the grant of OROP as per the accepted definition. But as Maj Gen. Satbir Singh points out: “Going by the ambivalent stand of the Defence Minister, the BJP seems to have accepted what the bureaucracy has said and not what the stakeholders and service headquarters are saying. The civilian bureaucracy has succeeded in injecting confusion in the minds of the political system.”

Defence pensioners are pressing the government to issue implementation orders on OROP in line with a draft government letter (DGL) prepared by the defence services headquarters. However, this seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. The DESW is preparing another DGL according to its own definition of OROP. Between 2009 and 2011, some 22,000 gallantry medals were returned by ex-servicemen and war widows to the President in protest against non-implementation of OROP. Another 10,000 medals are lying in the office of the IESM after former President Pratibha Patil refused to accept them when the pensioners insisted on handing them over to her personally. The last Lok Sabha election saw a record participation of serving and retired defence personnel in the electoral process. A Supreme Court ruling that enabled serving defence personnel to vote from their place of posting saw political parties scrambling to woo them. The BJP took the lead and gave ticket to several retired Army men. For the first time ever, a former Army Chief contested and won the elections.

Over the years, successive Parliament committees have recommended complete OROP. What the previous UPA government set in motion was reiterated by Prime Minister Modi himself. The euphoria generated by Mr. Modi’s pre and post-election statements on OROP is fast dissipating. It is being replaced, instead, by a sense of resignation that perhaps there will another long haul before those who returned their medals will be able to take them back.

> chander.dogra@thehindu.co.in

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