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Thursday, 26 November 2015

OROP: Will this misinformation campaign ever end? Brig V Mahalingam

November 26, 2015, 12:31 pm IST in In Search of Propriety | India | TOI
 
Author V Mahalingam             
V Mahalingam Brigadier (retd) V Mahalingam, has held varying command and staff appointments in his 35 years of Army service. He specializes in security related matters and is a leadership trainer. His areas of interest include national security, defence and security forces, governance, and politics.
 
Does freedom of speech bestow on anyone the right to distort facts and spread misinformation by putting out unverified and unsubstantiated information couched in some form of communication to bring about disillusionment against a group of people? That precisely seems to have happened when a media network published a narrative labeling it an opinion.

A query is raised in the article which claims that “a section is beginning to wonder if soldiers are being too greedy if they are totally disgruntled after the government raised pensions that will cost the taxpayer up to Rs 10,000 crore a year to start with and much more later”. Pray tell us how has anyone come to the figure of Rs 10,000 crores as the initial cost of OROP to the exchequer?

The defence minister is on record to assert “Some people say OROP has a huge cost burden, but I would say OROP is merely 2.29% of the total defence outlay.”  What does that translate into in real terms? The defence outlay (click Defence under Sectoral Highlights) for the FY 2015 – 16 is Rs 2,46,727 crores and 2.29 % makes just Rs 5650 crores. This is the defence minister’s statement as late as September 5, 2015. Is the author’s source of information more authentic than the Union defence minister? “What does much more later” mean? Does it not imply that the subsequent expenditure would exceed Rs 10,000 crores a year? Are these figures truthful by any yardstick?

The fact of the matter is the government has till date not shared the calculations and the details of One Rank One Pension (OROP) as assessed by it. How can any meaningful debate on the subject take place without even the basic data? Pray enlighten the country as to why these details have not been shared till date? Would it therefore be wrong to say that the debate that is going on the subject is infructuous and meaningless and the data put out in this article is meant to distort facts and to put the military veterans in poor light?

Now that the veterans have been pronounced “greedy”, the matter needs some retrospection. Defence services personnel are demanding OROP as a compensation for early retirement, Jawans at the age of around 35 years and officers at an average age of 54 years. On the other hand, how many people in the country know that the IAS, IFS, Indian Forest Services and other organised Group ‘A’ Services who retire after serving till 60 years of age with opportunities for post-retirement employment created surreptitiously have already manipulated OROP for themselves? Does the country know that these self-seekers are already on a scheme called ‘Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU)’ which entails pay promotion irrespective of the appointment, the job or the quality of an individual’s performance, once a single individual from the same batch gets appointed to a post tenable by an officer with higher grade of pay? This pay upgradation is till eternity and makes it possible for every individual joining these services to pick up Apex scales of pay during their service and OROP on retirement despite having served till 60 years of age. Now decide for yourself who is “greedy” and who are the self-seekers – the military veterans or the bureaucrats? Why hasn’t anyone questioned the wisdom of granting these financial benefits exclusively to a section of the government employees?

The article goes on to allege “Some ex-servicemen are talking of returning bravery medals to extract more money from the taxpayer”. The author may like to be more factual while making such allegations. The military veterans have been depositing their medals to the President of India as a symbol of protest right from 2008. These medals have not been returned but deposited duly documented as a mark of protest. Is there anything wrong or undemocratic about it?

When a soldier who wears the bravery medals in his chest as a matter of pride after earning it by his acts of sheer courage and grit at the cost of his own life and the future of his family is not respected, it is but natural the medal loses its value in a soldier’s estimation. It is for the country to introspect and find out if it has in any way contributed to upholding the value and respect for the bravery medals? The reality is, excepting within the services, no one cares for these medals or the awardees in the country.

The article goes on to add, “So far, the taxpayer and the media have supported the forces all the way and looked the other way when respected authorities like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India found glaring irregularities in the way defence land, mostly in prime locations in big cities, is managed, leased out to private parties, or used to build schools or luxurious golf courses and clubs where civilians can pay and have fun along with officers”.

This issue needs to be put in perspective. Military lands are managed by a department called the Directorate General of Defence Estates under the ministry of defence and not by the defence services or its officers. This department is manned by Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES) an organised Group ‘A’ Central Civil Service, incidentally in receipt of NFFU and OROP. No transactions pertaining to military lands can ever take place without the concurrence of this department. If the authorities have “looked the other way” to the misdoings of defence services officers after being indicted by constitutional authorities such as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India as alleged, no one is doing any favour to the defence services but are being instrumental in breeding indiscipline and corruption besides politicising the institution. If indeed that is the case, it must stop forthwith.

A point has been raised doubting the “successes of the defence forces after the 1971 war”. It is a shame that an Indian is asking this question. Is the author aware that no army in the world till date has carried out an attack uphill at a height of 19 to 21000 feet with the enemy sitting entrenched on top as in the case of Kargil Operations? Do we know what such an operation involves? Are we conscious of the fact that soldiers are being killed and wounded in our border areas on a daily basis? But for the efforts of the Indian Army, the geography of India would have changed by now. When soldiers say that they are not being respected and their efforts not recognised, are they wrong? People who know nothing about the working of the army may do well not to expose their ignorance.

A look at the government’s notification spelling out the definition of OROP will bring to light that the notification (See November 2015 Serial 28) issued by the government on OROP is in fact ‘One Rank 3 years behind half-baked mixed up 5 pensions’ with no semblance to the definition echoed more than once in the Parliament. Why hasn’t anyone questioned this discrepancy? If indeed the government has a problem in implementing the scheme in the form defined in the floor of the House for some reason, don’t the norms of parliamentary democracy demand that the changes are brought to the notice of the House along with the details of implications placed before it for scrutiny and approval?

KP Singh Deo Committee constituted in 1984 and the Standing Committee of the ministry of defence headed by Madan Lal Khurana recommended OROP. The All Party Rajya Sabha Petition Committee headed by Bhagat Singh Koshyari after examining all parties including government officials such as secretaries department of expenditure (ministry of finance) and department of pensions and pensioner’s welfare (ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions) submitted its report in December, 2011. The Supreme Court  gave its nod to the concept of OROP on December 17, 1982. The sentiments of the Parliament on the issue of OROP can be gauged from the discussions on the subject in the Parliament. Please keep these reports on one side and take a look at the government’s notification on OROP. Does the government notification have any semblance to the aforesaid? Obviously the bureaucracy has been sitting in judgment on the Parliament, its committee reports and the SC implementing only what it wants to. Are we in a parliamentary democracy or bureaucratic democracy? Does this not amount to the Parliament and the SC being undermined? Is this in the interest of democracy? The question is why anyone from the media or the so called intellectuals hasn’t questioned this impropriety till now.

The government notification on OROP also appoints a judicial committee “to look into anomalies” An anomalies committee built-in, in the notification, creating space for amendments, after the bureaucracy having sat over the definition for over 18 months? Never heard of an amendment to the document or an anomalies committee being notified in the very primary document right at the time of its opening issue!! Obviously the authors of the notification were unsure of themselves. Is this by any chance good decision making or good governance? With such authorities in positions of power and decision making no wonder files move at snail’s pace and projects fail to take off.

The judicial committee has been constituted precisely to hoodwink the veterans. These committees have no powers vested in them. These reports are invariably ignored and the bureaucracy implements what they think is right. This is purely a time gaining exercise. With the political leadership incapable of fathoming most of the issues, wisdom in the Indian context seems restricted to India’s know all bureaucracy alone. The Koshyari Committee description (2011) a Parliamentary Committee Report and that of the Kargil Committee Report (1999) headed by K Subrahmanyam, considered the doyen of India’s strategic community are gathering dust in the corridors of power. There are no reasons to believe why this Judicial Committee Report when submitted will be treated differently.

The clean environment in cantonments in which the soldiers live, their dress, gait and confidence seems to be irking some. All this comes out of training and a sense of discipline instilled in the soldiers. If the military areas are full of vegetation and trees it is due to the efforts of the troops and watchful insistence of its leaders. The military doesn’t have a Swachh Bharat Abhiyan like budget allotted to it. If the Defence Services have their own club what is anyone’s problem? Is anyone preventing others from having their own recreational or sports establishments?

Many may not understand that these off office recreational activities bond people which are the essence of cooperation and team work in difficult times. Most sacrifice not because they are exceptionally brave but because they have to live up to the reputation that they have built for themselves amongst their fellow soldiers and families. It is the self-pride in them that prevents them from escaping or running away from dangerous situations. The credit for developing such a climate and ethos goes entirely to the Army leadership. This in effect is the essence of military motivation and nothing else matters more than this in the matter of war fighting.

Governments don’t connive, tell lies, deliberately leak information to divide organisations and as a consequence put down individuals and groups. Promotions and appointments are not manipulated to put in place people of convenience. Ministers are expected to honor their promises and not shift goal posts. These are instruments for self-destruction and the demolition of individuals’ faith in the system. For a democratic government, pronouncements in the Parliament are sacrosanct. If the government fails to respect Parliament, judiciary and its own rules and laws, there is no way discipline or respect to laws can be brought about in a society and the defence services can be no exception.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.
Brigadier (retd) V Mahalingam, has held varying command and staff appointments in his 35 years of Army service. He specializes in security related matters a. . .

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