One Rank One Pension : More than just money
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
The first week of September 2015 has been significant for two major events; the 50th anniversary of the Indo-Pak conflict in 1965 and the grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) to the veterans of the Armed Forces by the Government of India. Both are landmark events and should have been celebrated with much happiness. There are various ways of looking at the two events if one is aware of the history of both and the inner linkages that the events bear with the entire concept of the security of India.
The public domain would be largely unaware of these linkages as people have been following the issues quite apart. Mostly citizens of India have been only following the emotive aspects of OROP or listening to commentaries of whether India truly won the war of 1965 and if so to what extent.
First a bit on OROP, to clarify the situation. The grant of OROP is a historic decision. The NDA Government can take much credit for this whatever the shortcomings of the final formula. No one can deny that. The Opposition going overboard to explain the anomalies is actually a lot of humor because they neither understand the issue nor can justify why in 1973 the entire trigger was allowed to take place.
The public must know that the reward for the victory of 1971 for the Armed Forces of India was a drop in pension percentages from 70% to 50 with a corresponding increase for civilian government employees from 30% to 50. These figures reflect percentage of the last basic salary drawn. It was ensured that the iconic Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw who would never have accepted it, retired before this was sprung on the unwitting soldiers in 1973; that generation never was strong in the field of its own terms and conditions of service.
A promise was made, however, that pensions would keep increasing with time as basic salaries of serving soldiers increased every 10 years with each Pay Commission. In other words the basics of OROP were promised 42 years ago.
For a layman to understand let me explain this with the case of my father (also done in an earlier article a few weeks ago) who too proudly served the Indian Army. He retired in the Seventies and found that by 1986 he was receiving lesser pension than the officers of his rank who retired in 1985. He took solace from an explanation that soon OROP would be granted by the government and his pension would be equated with the other officers of his rank who retired 12 years later.
Yet, in 1997 when Fifth Pay Commission recommendations were approved he still found himself well below in pension scales. By 2008 when Sixth Pay Commission came into effect he was effectively receiving the pension of a Colonel while he retired as a Major General. He passed away 2012 in the vain hope of receiving a rise in pension for which he waited 40 years.
FOR THE SAME LENGTH OF SERVICE PUT IN AND RETIREMENT AT THE SAME RANK, TWO SOLDIERS MUST GET SIMILAR PENSION IRRESPECTIVE OF THE DATE/VINTAGE OF RETIREMENT. That is the essence of what the veterans led by Major General Satbir Singh have been fighting for. It was promised in 1973 but conveniently and deliberately overlooked over the years so that soldiers are not given anything special despite having reduced their pensions in 1973, a callous attitude of the political leadership and the bureaucracy.
Once before in the Fifties pay and allowances had been reduced without a whimper from the soldiers. With increase in awareness of terms and conditions and comparisons with various civil organizations soldiers realized how they were being done down in almost every sphere. The position of various appointments in the protocol list dropped drastically because the bureaucrats decide that along with the political leaders and there is complete inter-dependency.
The public must ask why soldiers (includes sailors and airmen) were demanding OROP, apart from the fact that it was promised in 1973 after their unfair pension reduction and corresponding enhancement of the pension of their civilian counterparts. The answer in simple terms and oft publicized, is that almost 86% personnel retire between the age of 34 and 37. Those who go higher in rank retire at staggered ages all the way to 60 years contingent upon rank achieved.
The rank of a Colonel (retiring age 54), first selection grade rank among officers is achieved by 50% officers of the Infantry but less than 30% of officers from Corps of Engineers or Signals. The last age of 60 is for Lt Gens whose percentage is miniscule (0.007%).
All civilian employees by contrast, irrespective of rank retire at the age of 60. A veteran retired civilian or uniformed individual lives his retired life on his pension, the investment of his gratuity, insurance benefits, commutation of pension and savings. Obviously those who retire at 60 carry the advantage of higher cumulative value of earning and savings, group insurance, gratuity and commutation value, besides higher pension.
Besides all this, the civilian employees also earn Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU) which essentially means that irrespective of achieving selection grade ranks their salaries are enhanced with years of service, a benefit that the soldiers do not earn. It is learnt from this morning’s media reports that the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) and Chief of the Air Staff has written to the Raksha Mantri asking for extension of this provision to all service personnel.
I do not wish to complicate matters for the readers by bringing any more angles related to this aspect. However, there are linked issues involving NFFU only for medical officers of the three Services which has been sanctioned under the Sixth Pay Commission and not implemented by the Services. This is because of perceived problems of equivalence between various ranks and command in the field between personnel who receive NFFU and those who do not. A litigation on this is currently going on at the Supreme Court of India.
Now what has the Government accepted on 5 September 2015. The big bang thing is that OROP itself has been granted with the base salary of 1 July 2013 and arrears from 1 July 2014; the arrears to be paid in four tranches of six months each but in one go for all widows and Veer Naris. The veterans are unhappy about the fact that they wanted the refixation of pension on a yearly basis based on the 3 percent (3%) increment in basic salary that a serving soldier receives. This is a little complicated for the layman to follow but is legitimate.
The Government has pleaded inability to do this year on year due to the sheer volumes involved; approximately three million defence pensioners on the veteran list is the volume we are looking at. As an alternative it has accepted revision every five years which it feels is manageable. I am flooded by information from IT specialists and programmers on how simple such calculations could be if the right software was used.
I am, however, aware what complications are involved in revising pensions of widows and old time veterans in rural areas in Garhwal (Uttarakhand), for instance where the pension disbursal authority which is the local bank has no idea about various anomalies being rectified from time to time. Some of the provisions of Sixth Pay Commission have yet to be implemented here in spite of my own Regiment’s mammoth outreach and liaison. This is not an excuse for avoiding yearly re-fixation but more reason for modernization of banking and pension disbursement.
A second issue which the authorities complicated unnecessarily is the case of those who left the service prematurely (PMR) but after the mandatory 20 years of service for officers; for those lower than officer rank, it is the colour service (15 years) which qualifies a man for minimum pension of the rank in which he exits but he has an option to serve two more years if he has not been promoted. Now, the Government announced that OROP would not be applicable to VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme) cases forgetting that there is no such thing as VRS for the Services. VRS implies a package with a sizeable chunk of money, exit and no pension. What it forgot was that the service personnel who leave voluntarily after 15 or 20 years or more earn pensions which cannot remain static. In other words OROP application to them means that if an individual exited after 22 years in 2005 then he must receive the same pension as a person who exits after 22 years in 2017. This is logical and sensible.
The Government functionaries, who were looking at this, confused VRS of civilian organizations and Pre Mature Retirement (PMR) of the Services. Apparently the Raksha Mantri (RM) relented to the mistake in his interaction with the veterans. One has to grant it to Manohar Parrikar that he has been one of the most involved RMs in living memory and his empathy has invariably been with the veterans. If the issue still persists as an anomaly it would be good to remember that PMR has to be encouraged for mobility of the cadre and to cater for those who do not finally make it to select grade ranks, to exit early from service. It assists the different Services to maintain a younger cadre and not have to carry non-promoted personnel for many years with questionable motivation and contribution.
It is a misnomer that they exit for lucrative pay packages in civvy street. At the level of soldiers below officer rank these exits are primarily for the purpose of looking after neglected families and land holdings. I wish to sensitize the public to the lack of knowledge about the social compulsions of the Services. This actually is a subject by itself (Military Sociology) which needs to be studied to keep a ticking, healthy and vibrant set of Armed Forces.
I started with mention of the 1965 Indo-Pak Conflict linking it to OROP; a reader will wonder where the linkage lies. Through the Fifties and up to 1962 the Government gave short shrift to everything the Armed Forces said and advised. In 1965 a marginal shift took place with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri beginning to listen to military advice and the civilian bureaucratic footprint in the military domain taking a back step. The decision to launch a counter offensive into Pakistan Punjab on 1 September 1965 was finally the Prime Minister’s but based upon sound military advice.
The necessity of close military advice to the political leadership once again came to the fore when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took Army Chief General Sam Manekshaw’s advice to delay any action in 1971. In the light of this it was surprising how an issue as serious as pensions of the Armed Forces was taken with such a negative view in 1973; and to beat it further, allowed to fester for 42 years. It is good to see that seriousness of something which could have adversely affected the motivation of our soldiers has been recognized. Yet, it will be the fine print of the government order which will finally cement the belief of the veterans and the serving soldiers.
Finally, although this piece deserves to address the entire gamut of civil military relations in India in the light of the 42 year OROP anomaly and the manner in which it was resolved, it must end here.
That is an issue for another examination. The three Services must now get down to ensuring that the well-established values and norms of service are taken stock of and nowhere diluted. Television pictures, media analyses and social media have all taken away a lot of attention and may convey thoughts which are not conducive to the intrinsic discipline with which they are associated.
This has to be done consciously by the senior leadership which has itself been negatively targeted from time to time. Equally, the veteran community must re-connect with the serving community to communicate all the above. The events of the Golden Jubilee of the 1965 Conflict are still in progress and could be the connectors for the achieving all that I have conveyed.