Cover Story/OROP : Restoring Parity
Sense of Unity and Parity are biggest hallmarks of the Bharatiya armed forces. By announcing One Rank, One Pension, the Central Government has restored this parity even in pensions of the soldiers.
After a long struggle of 42 years, One Rank One Pension (OROP) for ex-serviceman is finally a reality. The Modi government accepted it on September 5. The decision will benefit about 30 lakh soldiers. The government announcement ensures uniform pension for veterans retiring in the same rank and the same length of service. More than the financial gains, it has been the fight for dignity and respect. By accepting the demand the Government has basically restored the dignity of the soldiers. Naturally, it is a morale booster for the Armed Forces. The soldiers welcomed the decision saying, “this Government kept its words”. However, a section of ex-servicemen staging dharna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi for 84 days have pointed out some anomalies. The Govern-ment by constituting a one member committee, promised to resolve those anomalies also. The committee has to submit its report within six months.
Let us explain the essence of OROP in a rather simplistic manner by giving an illustrative example. Consider two twin brothers both matric pass. One joins the Army as a soldier. The other joins government service as a peon. Both get same starting pay. Soldier retires at 35 years of age. Peon retires at 60 years of age. At the age of 35, salary of peon and soldier will be almost similar. Pension is 50% of salary. So, when the soldier retires at the age of 35 the soldier will get 50% of what the peon is getting. Soldiers do not get employment easily because government do not provide them any—so most likely—the soldier and his family will have to survive the entire life on that meagre pension. Meanwhile—the peon will serve 25 years more of service, i.e. till the age 60 years. During which he will get promotions due to Assured Carrier Programme (ACP), roughly a total of 25 increments and benefit of at least 3 Pay Commissions because of which his salary will be nearly doubled/trippled each time. So when the peon retires at the age of 60 his salary will be at least 10 times the salary he used to get when he was 35. So the peon will get 10 times the pension of his twin brother soldier (since pension is 50% of last pay drawn and his pay increased 10 times from the age of 35 to 60). The aim of OROP is to partially compensate this huge disadvantage in pension of the soldier due to forced early retirement at the age of just 35 years. The other option is to increase the retirement age of all soldiers to 60 years and bring soldiers at par with their civilian counterparts. The third option is to ensure employment to the soldier in civilian life once he retires at 35, till Modi Government took up this issue all the earlier governments have miserably failed to do so. n
OROP will come into effect from July 1, 2014, with 2013 as the base year for calculation of the pension. The arrears will be paid in four half yearly installments. However the arrears to widows of the soldiers will be paid in single installment.
This demand of the soldiers was pending since 1973 when during the regime of Smt Indira Gandhi the Third Pay Commission snatched away this right from the soldiers. The Pay Commission had argued that the soldiers should get the pay equal to general Government servants. The Commission totally ignored the service conditions of the soldiers and the general Government servants. The soldiers repeatedly pleaded not to compare their service with ordinary Government clerks. But nobody heard them and a series of protests began. Since then many Governments
came and went, but nobody thought of restoring dignity of the soldiers. (See timeline on page 10 for details of the struggle).
The soldiers, who gifted victory to the nation in 1971 War, were hopeful that the Government would definitely accept their genuine demands. But 42 years have passed waiting for that day. Even after the victory of 1999 Kargil War nobody took them seriously. Today, the soldiers are thanking the Government whole heartedly. The protest at Jantar Mantar is just symbolic. Prime Minister himself cleared their apprehensions next day itself. He affirmed that the Armed Forces personnel who retired prematurely will also be entitled to OROP scheme. “The Government decision is inspired by a feeling of patriotism and respect towards veterans. We began work on OROP from day one and took a decision. I went deeper into the issue and got to know that OROP is not about Rs 500 crore. This is about Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 crore. We made a promise and we are fulfilling it,” Prime Minister said.
Vice Admiral (retd) Shekhar Sinha sees it as a major breakthrough in the struggle going on for over 40 years. The biggest disparity was that the soldiers were forced to live on a meager pension in the skyrocketing inflation. In that sense the OROP is a big relief to them. Shri Sinha is optimistic that the apprehensions expressed by some soldiers will be resolved during implementation. “It is a big step to make the soldiers financially strong. The Government must be congratulated for it,” he says. The implementation of OROP will put additional burden of Rs 10,000 to 12,000 crore on the Exchequer. The Government has taken this decision after full ground work. It is not like the previous Congress Government when the then Finance Minister P Chidambaran announced Rs 500 crore for it even without properly calculating how much amount would be required. They were just lingering on the issue. That is why when Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, went to Jantar Mantar to express solidarity with the agitating soldiers they were forced to go back.
Anyone who has served for a minimum of 20 years as an officer (and 15 years for jawans, NCOs and JCOs) is eligible for pension. The meager amount of Rs 3,000 to 4,000 forced them to work as security guard or take up any other job to run the family. This basically demoralises their next generation to join the Armed Forces. Now after implementation of OROP, an average soldier will get about Rs 10,000 as pension. Flying Officer (retd) RD Nangia, who lives at Palam area of Delhi, thanks the Government in emotional words. He fought the wars of 1962, 1965 and 71, but got only Rs 4,000 as pension in 2001. When asked how much pension would he get now, he says, “I have not calculated. But it will surely be a respectable amount, which is what we wanted.”
Col (retd) Surajbhan Malik says that the Government’s decision would benefit hugely to the soldiers who are now in the age of around 80. Wing Commander (retd) Jasbir Chadha who joined the protest at Jantar Mantar, is also very happy. He says, “It is not the matter of monitory gain. It is the matter of restoring our dignity. They have diagnosed the malady, which is basically preventing the youth to join the army. The children from soldiers’ families too hesitated to join the Armed Forces because of the poor pay structure and lack of benefits there. The real strength of the Armed Forces is soldier. Weapons or machines are secondary. If the morale of a soldier is high he can face any challenge.”
Undoubtedly, the issue of OROP has been very sensitive for the soldiers. They in 2009 had returned their medals to the then President Smt Pratibha Patil. But nobody tried to understand their pain. On the other hand, Shri Modi, soon after being declared as Prime Ministerial candidate, had declared at a rally in Haryana that he would restore dignity of the soliders, and he did it within 16 months of assuming power.
Today there are about 24 lakh retired soldiers and about 6 lakh widows of the soldiers. They all will be benefited with the OROP. However the soldiers have sought some clarity on certain issues like VRS, PRM and also the revision in two years and not in five years. The one member committee is looking into all such issues. The fact which has been appreciated by all is that the way Modi Government resolved this long pending issue makes it clear that its intention is clear and it will not let the morale of the soldiers down at any cost.
The governments in different parts of the world give more salary to their soldiers than the civilians. It is 15 to 20 per cent high in the US and 10 per cent in the UK, 15 per cent in France, 10-15 per cent in Pakistan and 19-29 per cent in Japan. But in Bharat, instead of giving anything more, we did not give them the fare treatment. The Modi Government has definitely done a good job by restoring parity in their pension.