Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Demystifying One PensionOne Rank by Lt Gen Harwant Singh

Demystifying One PensionOne Rank
Fear of opening Pandora’s Box is bureaucracy’s chicanery

Lt-Gen Harwant Singh ( Retd )

On 25 Oct 2009 Veterans returned the fifth pack of medals to the President of India: their supreme commander. For a veteran, his medals are his most valued and cherished possession. These are heirlooms for their families. Medals are earned under difficult conditions. Some by putting life at great risk during war, others for gallantry in the face of the enemy and yet some others for wounds suffered during operations. For veterans to part with their medals is an extreme step of desperation, caused by frustration and distress. So far more than twenty thousand medals have been returned to the President.Why have the veterans been driven to such a state of anguish!

Past and present Presidents and Prime Ministers of India, previous defence ministers and the chair person of congress party, at various times, accepted grant of One Rank One Pension ( OROP ) Given this background, why has OROP not come through. It is so because the babus have been frightening the political executive that giving OROP to the defence services will open a ‘Pandora’s Box.’ Every other government employee will ask for the same. This is a patently false input. Members of parliament, legislative assemblies, higher judiciary and top babus are all on OROP concept. Infact all of them decide their own pay, perks and allowances, yet there have been no protests against this dispensation.

The argument that granting OROP will open a Pandora’s Box is, baseless and mendacious. 85 percent of defence services personnel retire between the ages of 34 to 44 years. Another 10 to 13.8 percent retire at the ages between 44 to 56 years. While all civil employees serve upto the age of 60 years. All civil employees step upto the top of their respective pay bands, get all the three Assured Career Progressions (ACPs) and consequently not only draw increasing pay but end up with much higher pension. 83 percent of military personnel who retire at age 34/35 that is after 17 years service do not qualify for even the second ACP which comes into play only after 20 years service. Since some may not grasp the import of this gross injustice, more appropriately a mischief, I will translate these infirmities in monetary terms a little later.

Successive Central Pay Commissions (CPCs) repeatedly and viciously lowered the pay and status of defence personnel. To mention just one case, DIG of police whose pay and status was in between that of a lt-col and colonel till the 5th CPC now stands equated with a brigadier for pay etc. DIG rank comes after 14 years service while that of a brigadier after 28 years. Sixth Pay Commission introduced a dozen more anomalies, adding to the already unfair dispensation to defence personnel.

Subsequent to the ham-handed dispensation of 6th CPC which drew strong response from the defence services headquarters, the government appointed a committee of secretaries to go into these anomalies. The villain of the piece on the 6th CPC formed part of the Committee of Secretaries constituted to address the anomalies. Thus it became a case where the prosecutor also formed part of the jury! Predictably, instead of addressing the earlier anomalies for which this Committee of Secretaries was constituted, it introduced some more of its own. Lt-Gens are now split into four categories for pay and pension! Conspiracy and mischief in this scheme of things became palpably apparent.

A comparison of total amount drawn in terms of pay and pension by a soldier and pay by his counter part in the civil ( based on 6 CPC dispensation ) by the time both reach the age of 60 years is Rs 33.3 lakhs more for the civil servant and this figure at age 70 is Rs 42.670 lakhs. At age 75 it is Rs 47.310 lakhs. In the case of a Havaldar, his equivalent in the civil, at age 60, would get Rs 20.261 lakhs more and this figure is Rs 26.639 lakhs at age 70 and at 75 it is Rs 29.828 lakhs. In the case of a subedar these figures at ages 60, 70 and 75 years are Rs 13.979 lakhs, Rs 18.911 lakhs and Rs 21.277 lakhs respectively, more for the civil servant.

A soldier retiring at age 35 years will live through atleast four CPCs and suffer their dispensations for retirees. Whereas his counter part in the civil will, not only continue to benefit from successive CPCs while still in service for an additional 25 years, but on retirement will be effected by just one CPC, assuming 70 years as the average age expectancy. Therefore, even if One Rank One Pension is granted, defence personnel will continue to suffer these gross disadvantages.

Similar figures are available for officers. The disparities are due to early retirement, delayed and extremely limited promotions in higher ranks. All these features are service imperatives. Within the defence services, earlier retirees are further disadvantaged. A soldier who retired prior to 1.1.2006 will get far less pension than a soldier who retired after 1.1.2006. For a havaldar who retired prior to 1.1.2006, his pension is less than a sepoy who retired after 1.1.06. The ad-hoc compensation promised to the other ranks is completely inadequate and fails to address the core issue of OROP. Similar situation prevails in the case of officers. Only one with severely impaired vision, limited intelligence and or, deep seated bias can miss the incongruity in this working

Now the above disparities are independent of X factor which apply to only defence personnel About 15 percent of soldiers get the opportunity to live with their families for a period of 1 to 2 years in their entire service. In the case of others (including officers) only 40 to 50 percent of their service, they live with their families. Then there are other travails of service such as harsh living conditions in uncongenial and high altitude areas which results in approximately 5000 of them being annually boarded out on medical grounds and thousands other who continue to serve with a wide range of ailments picked up while posted in uncongenial areas. During the last 10 years army has lost approximately 8600 troops and around 570 officers in counter-insurgency operations in the North East and J and K. Entry into the officer cadre has become the last career choice for the country’s youth, consequently huge shortages persist. During the last sixty years army has fought four wars and been continuously committed in counter insurgency operations.

Some argue that, military personnel signed for such a service conditions so they damn well live with the consequences. However, the issue is of their repeated downgradation and all the other disadvantages relating to total take home pay/pension vis-à-vis their counterparts in the civil and not service conditions. In the case of bonded labour too there is some manner of agreement between the employer and the employee and yet such an arrangement is bad in law. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution has something to say on this issue and to which the supreme court too, has drawn governments attention is the case of SPS Vains vs MoD etc relating to the case where brigadiers were given more pension than maj-gens. In simple terms, OROP implies that two retirees with equal length of service in the same rank should draw the same pension, irrespective of their date of retirement.

Few seem to be aware of the bonding between the veterans and the serving. Every year veterans in lakhs visit their units on annual raising days and other important events. There is also constant inter-action between units and their retired personnel and that is how units sustain spirit and traditions. Besides this there are large number of veterans children in the defence services and they see the state of ex-servicemen at first hand. Therefore, there is the danger of spill over effect of this disenchantment, distress and disgruntlement of the veterans passing on to the serving. It will indeed be a sad day for the country, were this to happen. After all those now in service will also suffer the very same set of disadvantages presently inflicted on the veterans.

The demand for OROP is fair and just and is only a part compensation for early retirement, extremely limited promotions and a miniscule recompense for a hard and risk filled career. There is little merit for the political executive, to accept the bureaucracy’s argument that giving OROP to the veterans will result in a similar demand by the civil employees.

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