Chandigarh, Saturday, 27 March 2010
RAW DEAL FOR VETERANS
DEMYSTIFYING ONE RANK ONE PENSION
by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (retd)
Veterans recently went to Rashtrapati Bhavan to return the sixth pack of medals to the President of India. But the President could not be there to receive the medals, so they came back disappointed. 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 laying down life during war and in fighting insurgents, 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. Why have the veterans been driven to such a state of anguish!
Successive Central Pay Commissions (CPCs) repeatedly and viciously lowered the pay and status of defence personnel. To mention just two cases, DIG of police, whose pay and status was in between that of a Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel now stands equated with a Brigadier for pay etc. DIG rank comes after 14 years service while that of a Brigadier after 26-28 years. So absurd has been the dispensation that a Brigadier was given more pension than a Major-General. The Sixth Pay Commission introduced a dozen more anomalies.
The Fourth Pay Commission granted rank pay up to the rank of Brigadiers. Through sleight of hand, the Ministry of Defence deducted the amount of rank pay from the basic pay. Later, the Supreme Court has finally set it right. The Supreme Court had also noted, in an indirect manner, the untenability of granting different pensions to persons of the same rank, irrespective of their date of retirement.
The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) at Chandigarh has drawn the government’s attention to the Supreme Court’s point and has given the Central Government four months to resolve the issue. Left to bureaucracy, nothing much can be expected. Therefore, the veterans decided to continue their struggle for One Rank One Pension (OROP).
Successive Presidents, Prime Ministers, Defence Ministers and the chairperson of the Congress party, at various times, accepted the grant of OROP. However, the bureaucracy has 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 patently false and mendacious contention.
In all, 83 per cent of defence services personnel retire between the ages of 34 and 37 years. Another 5 to 12 per cent retire at the ages between 44 and 52 years. Only 0.35 per cent retire at the age of 60. While all civil employees serve up to the age of 60 years, they step up to 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.
The 83 per cent of military personnel who retire at 34-37 age, 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, spelling out the monetary position would be in order, but a little later.
Subsequent to the ham-handed dispensation of the Sixth Central Pay Commission which drew strong response from the defence services headquarters, the government appointed a Committee of Secretaries to go into these anomalies. In the Sixth Central Pay Commission, the villain of the piece was the IAS officer on this Commission.
Now when the Committee of Secretaries was constituted to address the anomalies, the same IAS officer also formed part of this committee. Thus, it became a case where the prosecutor also formed part of the jury! The committee endlessly dragged its feet and finally omitted OROP in its recommendations.
A comparison of the total amount drawn in terms of pay and pension by a soldier and pay by his counterpart in the civil by the time both reach the age of 60 years is Rs 33.3 lakh more for the civil servant; this figure at the age of 70 is Rs 42.670 lakh. At age 75, it is Rs 47.310 lakh. In the case of a Havaldar, his equivalent in the civil, at age 60, would get Rs 20.261 lakh more and this figure is Rs 26.639 lakh at age 70 and at 75 it is Rs 29.828 lakh. In the case of a Subedar, these figures at ages 60, 70 and 75 years are Rs 13.979 lakh, Rs 18.911 lakh and Rs 21.277 lakh respectively, more for the civil servant.
A soldier retiring at 35 years of age will live through at least four Central Pay Commissions and suffer their dispensations for retirees. Whereas his counterpart 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 OROP 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 January 1, 2006 will get far less pension than a soldier who retired after this date. For a Havaldar who retired prior to this date, his pension is less than a Sepoy who retired after this date.
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.
The above disparities are independent of X factor which apply to only defence personnel. About 15 per cent of soldiers get the opportunity to live with their families for a period of one to two years in their entire service. In the case of others (including officers), only 40 to 50 per cent 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. Thousands live with ailments and continue to serve.
Then there is the curtailment on fundamental rights and harsh military law to contend with. Entry into the officer cadre has become the last career choice for the country’s youth. Consequently, huge shortages persist.
Few seem to realise the strong bonding that exists between the veterans and the serving. There is continued interaction between units and their retired personnel and that is how units sustain the regimental spirit and traditions.
During leave, the serving come in contact with the retired and the dissatisfaction of the later gets passed to the serving. Therefore, there is the danger of spill-over effect of this disenchantment and disgruntlement of the veterans passing on to the serving. It will indeed be a sad day for the country when this distress is fully transferred to the serving.
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. The political executive ought to realise the injustice being done to the soldier and accept in good grace, what is fair and what is just.