Politicising their sweat and blood

The One Rank One Pension (OROP) is an emotive issue for ex-servicemen. However, those not affected by the same feeling play politics over this emotive issue. The trust that should exist between the military and the civilian administration, regarding pay and allowances, has been breached repeatedly. The instances are many, including rank pay, OROP and benefits to disabled ex-servicemen retained in service. Ex-Servicemen have already returned their hard earned medals to the Honourable President in the past for not receiving adequate justice. Another agitation seems imminent because the modalities have not yet been cleared for OROP.

The OROP is a vote garner and every political party plays it to the hilt. In the last two general elections, it has been employed as a favorite method to garner veterans’ votes. It is roughly estimated that with families and dependents, veterans votes could amount to approximately 26 lakh ex-servicemen and 6.5 lakh widows, plus around 13 lakh serving soldiers and their respective families. In certain states they are game changers like Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan and of course Uttarakhand. Both the Congress and BJP have promised the same in an undiluted manner, the way soldiers understand the same. Whosoever comes to power promises the same then does not pay its dues? There is a regular pattern, as both political parties have promised the same. A committee in Parliament has recommended the same, and a pittance was set out by the last government. No settlement took place when the finance minister was also the defence minister and the same is yet to be implemented. Instead a Parliament release states that modalities to pay the same will be worked out. Is this another way to confuse, delay and side track the issue. The Koshiyari committee report settled the issue once and for all. Have we noticed off late that the BJP, from whom we had expected so much, has begun to talk more like the bureaucracy, considering the lack of progress on the black money issue and modalities for OROP? The icing on the cake is the BJP’s volte face on the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh. The entire strategic affairs community was requesting the BJP, while it was in opposition, to behave maturely and sensibly and not torpedo the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) in national interest. The stand taken from 2011 was suddenly overruled when in power and hopefully the same will be ratified soon by Parliament.

The fact of the matter is that before the third pay commission, defence employees got more pension than their civilian counterparts. The third pay commission leveled all to 50 per cent of last pay drawn as pension. Whereas young soldiers retire young at 37-42 years of age and colonels at 54, the civilian counter parts serve till they are 60. This puts an average defence personal at least two pay commissions behind his civilian counterpart and with very little scope of reemployment. This has hit the forces the hardest. 

The current shortages in officers began after two key events, namely the flawed salary fixation of the fourth pay commission (1986) and economic liberalization in the nineties. In hindsight job aspirants of the early nineties were the smartest. By instinct young adults realised that neither the salary being offered by the forces is good enough nor will the pension. With economic liberalisation taking place they sought jobs elsewhere, sowing the seeds for the current shortage in officers. We soldiered on little realizing “there is not to reason why”, “although nobody knew someone had blundered”. Ex-servicemen are up in arms again asking for a solution. Which nation treats its veterans this way? For them and their widows, who have nowhere to turn, settling the issue once and for all is not about garnering votes but an economic necessity. The final announcement has not been made yet.

The current defence minister has had a series of talks, with all the stakeholders. However, what has emerged is not concrete action but a solution that bridges the gap. The entire issue is being held up by modalities for future increases i.e. dynamic adjustments or in slabs. A large number of figures are being bandied around, but nothing official has come out. Parliament has been told repeatedly that the government will sanction OROP. Bridging the gap at 80 per cent or anything less will not stand the test of Parliament. Other developed countries pay their veterans 70 to 75 % of pension. India pays the least and that too woefully behind the amount promised. The OROP is hardly 10 to 15 per cent of the pension bill, a small fraction of the dearness allowance worth around Rs 12,500 crores. Every twist and turn is being used by the administration to deny OROP, which at a dynamic scale is around 9,000 crores, with the lowest figure at 4,500 crores, thus creating an unnecessary storm in a tea cup. 
In case it is sanctioned at 80%, it shall be 1,860 crores less than 9500 crores as stated. Let’s hope this does not become another issue for 2019, because the 7th Pay commission will start paying normally around two years after date, which falls somewhere between 2018 and 2019. Does it ring a bell faujis? Be aware!

The author is a retired brigadier

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