Equal pension is no favour to soldiers
Anil Kaul says the government needs to change its attitude towards the armed forces
VETERANS, MY friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood: never.”
Albert Camus’ words are ringing true in case of Indian army veterans, who are threatening to intensify their four-year-old agitation unless the government accepts their demand for one rank one pension (OROP) by 15 August.
One rank one pension implies uniform pension for army personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement, and mandates that any future enhancement in the rates of pension be automatically passed on to past pensioners. The demand was raised way back in 1981 and still remains unresolved. The six-member committee under Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth that has been looking into it, has been asked by the government to finalise its recommendations and submit a report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by 8 August. The PM is likely to announce some welfare measures for defence veterans including ‘one-rank-one-pension’ on 15 August. It has already been discussed in detail by a Rajya Sabha Petition Committee headed by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari. Given below are some examples how the recommendations of the Koshiyari committee negate the very spirit of pension laid down by the Supreme Court — that it is not pay but payment for services rendered — and parity in its allotment.
1. “The pre 1 Jan 2006 retirees get the same pension as the post 1 Jan 2006 retirees by matching the three factors that govern the pensions of ex-servicemen i.e. the rank, the length of service and the trade (in case of all ranks below officer ranks only). After this is affected, any future increases be automatically applied to old pensioners. The family, disabilities and dependents’ pensions be included for the purpose of this definition. This, however, does not mean the grant of pensionary benefits such as DCRG and additional value of commutation pension.”
This definition, by no stretch of imagination, includes annual increments in pensions as is given to serving soldiers.
2. Notwithstanding the Rajya Sabha Committee Report that was presented on 19 December 2011, in 2013, a post 2006 retiree Brigadier (equivalent to a deputy secretary) will get more pension than a post 2006 retiree Major General (equivalent to a joint secretary). The protection clause for the Major Generals would have to be applied or Military Service Pay will have to be extended to Major Generals. This is the mess created by the government in the 6th Central Pay Commission. Now compare this with pre 2006 retirees. The pension of a post 2012 retiree Colonel (equivalent to a director), on both time scale and selection grade is Rs 35,841, whereas a pre 2006 retiree Major General’s pension is Rs 26,700. You cannot have three rank juniors getting more pension than the seniors. OROP is being demanded for army personnel because it is a rank-based hierarchy, whose terms and conditions are different from other professions. As such armymen under the same rank and with same years of service should get the same pension irrespective of their dates of retirement and should continue to get it in perpetuity. But in their desperation to fool the unwary veterans, the bureaucrats have added the point of annual increment in pension as per the serving soldiers to the award of OROP. But ex-servicemen (ESM) don’t want annual increment in pensions. A serving soldier gets annual increment for a year’s service, how can a pensioner claim the same for his retired service? OROP, as per the definition given, means full parity with the latest rates of pension for past pensioners. Once granted there are no increments till a revision by a CPC.
3. Successive governments in the past have claimed that OROP was untenable and meeting it would cost a bomb. The anomaly was created by the 5th and 6th Pay Commissions. The Congress had promised OROP in its poll manifesto in 2004. However, the UPA government rejected the OROP demand in December 2008, after which ex-servicemen returned their gallantry medals to the President. Following protracted protests, a committee was set up under Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar to review the OROP issues. On the panel’s suggestion, the Centre has now agreed to substantially hike the pension of JCOs and other ranks. The pension of such personnel who retired before 10 October, 1997 will be brought at par with the pension of those retired after that date. The pension of those who retired before 1 January, 2006 — including the 1997 group — will be substantially hiked to come close to those who retired after the cut-off date of 1 January, 2006. This is not OROP but near parity.
Soldiers rightfully deserve better than this after the sacrifices they make. The government needs to address this trust deficit in all earnest. Half-hearted measures won’t help.
Kaul, a retired officer, is the author of Better Dead Than Disabled. The views expressed here are personal.