Thursday, September 30, 2010

OROP by Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

Meaning of OROP

‘One Rank One Pension’ or OROP means that a soldier's pension be determined by just two factors: his rank and the length of his service. That is, two military pensioners who retired in the same rank after rendering equal service should get equal pension irrespective of their dates of retirement. Nobody has so far cogently rebutted this rationale to be unreasonable.


The concept of rank is unique to the military. Those in non-military services may carry designations/posts like 'director general', ‘secretary’ etc. but these have no formal sanctity the world over. However, those in/from the military are always referred to by his rank, even after death.

While those serving in the military retire by rank, the other government employees retire by age. To keep the forces young, all jawans retire in their mid-30s; all JCO’s retire in their mid-40’s and the bulk of officers retire in the early fifties. Only a handful-about 60 Lt Gens serve up to 60 years. On the other hand, all civilian government employees serve up to the age of 60 years, whether they are peons or constables or secretaries and DGP’s. Since the date of retirement also determines the quantum of pension, with each pay commission (with periodicity of 10 years), the military veterans who retired early receive lesser pension compared to those who retired later with the same rank and same service. As military pensioners are subjected to three or more pay commissions in their lifetime, they have to suffer the disparities bred by it every 10 years.

The take-home package of a jawan for example and a constable hardly bears comparison, as the jawan starts getting half pay (pension) at the average age of 35 years, while the constable continues to serve till the age of 60 years, thus getting full pay for another 25 years. In addition, he gets pay rise with each subsequent pay commission, as well as increments. Furthermore, if we take the current average age of death (67 years), the constable will perhaps see only one pay commission after his retirement but the jawan will see a minimum of three or four pay commissions, each of which will further downgrade his pension when compared to the serving jawans or his comrades who retired in subsequent years. Where is equity and fairness? Should the veteran not get compensated? OROP will fill this lacuna.

The governments reasoning that civilian pensioners will also demand OROP is simply a bogey. They have never sought the equivalent of OROP to date, as they understand that their requirements are adequately met by serving up to 60 years. Further, when the 'one time increase' was granted to the armed forces, civilian pensioners never made it a bone of contention.

The pension structure of the defence personnel is distinct and no other central service has sought a similar structure or parity with the ex-servicemen.

The parliamentary standing committee in its 2004 report had estimated the annual cost of implementing OROP to be Rs 614 crores. Even after catering for inflation, the resultant amount is small change to governments that unabashedly hand out princely sums to patronise cronies, to cultivate vote banks and to feather their nest.

It is a great pity that the government, and the blinkered bureaucracy that steers it, do not think straight, merely on the assumption that the military will accept whatever is given to them without complaining. I am afraid the military veterans have now reached the end of their tethers and are in no mood to drop their highly legitimate demand.

Major Landmarks in the Tortuous Journey of OROP

In the early eighties, with a view to rationalise military pensions, the Supreme Court gave its nod to the concept of OROP on December 17, 1982. Consequently, a committee headed by K P Singh Deo was tasked two years later to settle the issues raised by the ex-servicemen. It made 62 recommendations including for OROP. While most of these were accepted, about 15 others, including OROP remained unresolved.

In a placatory gesture, the government granted a 'one time increase' in 1992. Later the fifth pay commission merged all the pre-1996 pensioners into one category, and created a new breed of post-1996 pensioners.

All political parties pledged bipartisan backing to OROP, both inside and outside Parliament. OROP has featured in the election manifesto of all major political parties. On April 10, 1999, George Fernandes, then defence minister, proclaimed at Anandpur Sahib that OROP would become a reality in 'a few days.'

Sonia Gandhi endorsed OROP in a Congress party rally at Chandigarh on November 23, 2002.

The parliamentary standing committee on defence, chaired by Madan Lal Khurana spiritedly favoured OROP in its twentieth report and it urged the inter-ministerial committee to examine the issue and operationalise it expeditiously.

It was the report of the sixth pay commission that broke the camels back on account of its highly biased and anti-military formulations, The committee of secretaries tasked to reconcile the contentious proposals did little for the military as the bureaucrats were hell-bent in keeping the ‘military in its place’, as publicly stated by no less a person than the Cabinet Secretary.

The central government further drove the nail in the coffin by their kowtowing with the bureaucrats. In a written reply, Defence Minister A K Antony informed the Rajya Sabha on December 11, 2008 that the government has not found acceptable the demand for 'one rank one pension' (OROP) by the ex-servicemen. The defence minister did not assign any compelling reasons for dumping OROP. Hence the government’s reluctance to sanction OROP is truly boggling.

30 September 2010

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