Victory for army veterans?
The NDA government has announced its tacit acceptance of the long-pending demand for ‘One Rank One Pension’ for retired members of the Indian armed forces. However, this seems like a pyrrhic victory at best as the ex-servicemen who have been on agitation have not fully accepted the key details of the decision. For the uninitiated ‘One Rank One Pension’ means equal pension to all defense personnel of similar ranks serving an equivalent duration in service. As of now retired servicemen receive pension according to the pay scale prevalent during their retirement time. This inconsistency has led to many issues. Since it is not adjusted to subsequent pay commission recommendations, the vast disparity in pension received exists among personnel who retire at different times. Junior officers who were retiring just now or recently are receiving much better pay (almost double) than old service men with equal service period. It is safe to say that prevailing scenario is patently unfair.
Escalating inflation in recent years and the vulnerability that old age brings necessitates better pension to live a dignified life after an honourable service period. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar announced that the base year for calculation of the OROP would be the calendar year 2013. The policy would be implemented with effect from July 2014. The government is also setting up a one-member judicial committee to work out details of OROP implementation which will file a report in six months. The commission proposed to be set up is to address shortcomings, if any, in the OROP scheme. The leader of agitating ex-servicemen Maj Gen (<g data-gr-id="53">retd</g>) Satbir Singh has said that while the veterans were satisfied with government’s intention to implement OROP, the proposed benefits were not acceptable to them.
There is no denying that OROP is a complex issue. A thorough examination of interests of retirees of different periods and different ranks is needed so as to adjust logistics accordingly. The inter-service issues of the three forces also require consideration. This is not an administrative matter alone. On service arrears, Parrikar has said that they will be paid in four half-yearly installments. However, all war widows will be paid their arrears in one installment. Close to 26 lakh retired servicemen and over six lakh war widows stand to be immediate beneficiaries of the scheme. The Defence Minister said Rs 10,000-12,000 crore would be required to pay arrears to the ex-servicemen. The crisis that has snowballed into the protests today and needed such dexterous firefighting on the part of the incumbent government has been decades in the making. The seeming intransigence of the veterans is a reaction to the hurt that has built up over decades rather than months or weeks. Fauji sensitivity to status games is not obdurateness. The pride in the uniform, the regimental honour developed over years of <g data-gr-id="48">peace-time</g> activities, the attention to the protocol are the tools of the soldiers’ trade. They are what behavioral economists might call mechanisms of discipline. The demand for OROP is being articulated as just compensation for a life of extraordinary hardship. However, there is another paradigm shift that needs to happen in the public discourse around this issue.
Taxpaying Indians could think of OROP in terms of the price for maintaining a young volunteer army. As with any other price, it must reflect the opportunity cost of an alternative. As career opportunities available to young men and women increase exponentially, the Army has to retain its competitiveness in the labour market. An effective military deterrent is the bedrock of the 10% GDP growth that Indians crave for. India must see OROP as part of the larger goal of making the Armed Forces an attractive career choice. The figures speak for themselves. There is a persistent 26% shortage in the office cadre. Add to that the relatively young age at which retirement takes place – at 52 years for most officers and at 37-38 years for most enlisted men – the very points in their lives when family responsibilities are increasing. If the Army is to remain an attractive career choice, then it’s essential that the OROP crisis be solved in full and not superfluously.