Though the Modi government has officially notified (November 7) to implement the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme – equal pension for equal number of years in the service in the same rank – for over 25 lakh ex-service men (ESM) and their dependents in the country, a section of the veterans is still disappointed and angry. These veterans continue to agitate at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. They are organising protest rallies in different parts of the country also and are returning their gallantry medals. In fact, some of them have even tried to burn their medals.
The ESM were receiving OROP until 1971, the year when the Indira Gandhi government cut down military pension from 70 per cent of the last pay drawn to 50 per cent of the last pay drawn and increased–simultaneously–the pension of the civil servants from 30 per cent of the last pay to 50 per cent. Since then, every central government has downgrade the military in pay, perks and status, compared to the civilian bureaucrats. The latest official notification, in that sense, is the redressal of a major injustice.
OROP will be implemented with effect from 1st July, 2014, fixed on the basis of the calendar year 2013, though the veterans wanted the year to be 2014. Arrears will be paid in four half-yearly installments, but all widows, including war widows, will be paid arrears in one installment. The pension will be re-fixed for all pensioners as the average of minimum and maximum pension in 2013. Those drawing pensions above the average will be protected.
Under the OPRP scheme, the gap between the rate of pension of current pensioners and past pensioners will be bridged every 5 years. Although the veterans have been demanding equalization of pension every year, the government went for a compromise of every five years, as against the present system of pay revisions for all the government servants every 10th year. It is said that this compromise is not for the monetary implications (which will not be much) but for administrative difficulties.
As can be seen, the differences between the notification and demands are very minor. And here too, the Government is open to rectify anomalies, if any, arising out of implementation of OROP, through a Judicial Committee, which, headed by a Supreme Court Judge, will submit its report in six months.
However, the veterans may legitimately debate over the wisdom of the government on that OROP provision which says that though those who retired early (because of injury, illness, lack of further promotions or family compulsion after serving the mandatory tenure–15 years for jawans, 20 years for officers) will get the benefit of OROP, in future those who quit voluntarily without completing their full term irrespective of whether they have made it to the next rank will not get OROP. For instance, a Colonel who doesn’t make it to the next rank – Brigadier – retires before 54 years – when he completes his full term – will not get OROP.
It looks odd to have a system that has different yardsticks for those who have retired and those who will retire. Hopefully, the judicial commission will look into this anomaly, even though there is no such liberal provision of full benefits after premature retirements for other all India services. One may not have any problem with the “special incentives” for the veterans because of their past nature of work. But when they openly say that they are “superior” to others and that their every demand must be fulfilled, the situation gets worrisome.
Worse, these veterans are increasingly politicising what was once a genuine agitation. They are hobnobbing with opposition leaders like Derek O’Brian, Rahul Gandhi, Capt. Amarinder Singh, Brinda Karat and Arvind Kejriwal. In India, so far the political class rarely intervened in purely military matters. And the military never coerced the civilian leadership on any issue. Broadly, both have developed a healthy system of negotiations and bargaining on most of the issues, including those relating to the salaries and pensions. This delicate balance is now under a threat because of some obdurate veterans.
Thankfully, these veterans are now losing support from within their community. Their boycott calls for official functions have been spurned by the overwhelming majority of the ESM. In a feedback collected by “Utkarsh – The Turning Point”, a Noida based NGO, from 1050 military pensioners across the country, only 11 favoured boycotting Military functions, 113 favoured boycotting only Government functions and the rest vehemently opposed the boycott call.
The obdurate veterans should present their case before the proposed judicial commission. Secondly, the doors of the higher judiciary are always open to them for getting justice. They should end their protests, which, otherwise, portend dangerous implications for the overall civilian-military relations in the country.
(The writer is a senior Journalist and Columnist. Email: email@example.com)
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