Why OROP is not ‘unconscionable’

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Published: July 21, 2015 12:38:17 AM

The armed forces have got a raw deal in terms of pensions and pay since Independence

Sunil Jain’s column ‘Short step from OROP to Greece’ (The Financial Express, July 15, goo.gl/h1XsGx and an earlier editorial ‘Drop the OROP’ (The Financial Express, June 3, goo.gl/uZFjPW) should consider following facts—which have a bearing on OROP, but have not been highlighted  in media—in the interest of truth and objectivity in opinion making.

India enforced pay reduction for its employees soon after Independence. Strangely, while the pre-Independence civil servants retained old (higher) pay, the salary of (only) their armed forces counterparts was reduced by 30%. Lt Gen Sinha (then Major) saw a salary reduction from R1,065 to R700 per month, a 30 % loss in salary implemented despite Sardar Patel’s strong letter dated March 22, 1947 that this was unfair to army officers!

Earlier, armed forces personnel drew 70% of their last salary as pension while civilian government servants drew about 30% or so of last pay drawn, a practice that was in vogue the world over.  The 3rd central Pay Commission (CPC), in 1973, made the pension percentage equal for both, reducing the armed forces personnel’s pension from 70% to 50 %, and increasing civil pension to 50%, on the logic that the armed forces would soon get pension under a new design—One Rank One Pension (OROP)— but that is yet to be implemented, 42 years later! Since the rationale for the 20% reduction in pension (implemented immediately) was the ‘soon to be implemented’ OROP, have successive governments not reneged from a promise and commitment made to the armed forces?

Can Mr Jain give an instance of reduction of pay and pension for any other group of government servants since Independence? Are the armed forces being punished for winning wars and bringing glory to the nation—first, in 1947, by the 30% reduction in salary, again in 1973, just a couple of years after winning a decisive war against Pakistan in 1971?

Is the columnist aware that  pre-Independence veterans, many of them having fought in the World War II and having survived either wounded or disabled, veterans of the 1962 war with China, of the Indo-Pak wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971—5 wars in just over two decades, in which parts of Jammu and Kashmir were taken back from Pakistan—suffered the harsh cuts? Post-Independence, armed forces personnel lost out on full pay, too, due to compulsory early retirement, unlike  civilians who served a full tenure till retirement at 60 years.

The 4th CPC then sanctioned ‘rank pay’—a consolation in lieu of OROP —but due to a ‘faux paus’  by the controller of defence accounts, deducting ‘rank pay’ from total emoluments and then arriving at pay resulted in financial loss to the armed forces personnel, depriving them of their dues on pay, DA, Pension, gratuity and commutation. After years of litigation, the matter was decided in favour of armed forces by the Supreme Court in September 2012, but hasn’t been implemented yet.

The 6th central Pay Commission ruled that pensions should be fixed at 50 % of the “minimum of the rank in the pay band, corresponding”. The civilian bureaucracy erroneously placed the pensions of (only) armed forces at 50 % of the “minimum of the pay band, corresponding”! Four different ranks Lt Col, Colonel, Brigadier and Maj Generals were in the same pay band, Pay Band-4, and the ministry of defence placed all of them at the bottom of this pay band for fixing pensions, ignoring their ranks! The result? Utter chaos—officers of four different ranks and grades, drawing the same pension, irrespective of their ranks and differences in the duration of service. And this, too, hasn’t been remedied till date. Denial of even a few hundred rupees, in the 1980s, was indeed harsh!

Thousands of veterans have all but lost out on their rightful pensions forever. Since 1973, the loss for armed forces personnel has been threefold—being deprived of 20 % of their earlier pension (3rd CPC), a loss of their genuine entitlements due to rank-pay calculation error (4th  CPC) and pay band error (6th CPC) .

Disabled civilian employees of the government are retained in service till they reach superannuation, with normal pension. Military personnel, for whom the chances of disability are much higher due to professional hazards, wars and operational risks, are thrown out of service, often denied even their disability pension. A former vice-chief of army, who lost a leg in the 1971 war as a Major, had to fight a legal battle for years after retirement just to get his disability pension! Capt CS Siddu, whose arm was amputated while he was serving in a high-altitude post, was denied disability dues even after 40 years of fighting the case in court. The Supreme Court later slammed the government for treating army personnel like beggars.

Is the columnist aware how the bureaucracy had gifted a “non-functional upgrade“(NFU) in the 6th CPC to officers in all-India Group A services—from which the armed forces were inexplicably excluded—wherein, subject to certain conditions, even without being promoted, a civilian official could draw higher pay than his/her rank and grade and without assuming greater responsibility, independent of the vacancies in their cadre. This completely disregarded the Supreme Court directive on ‘equal pay for equal work’. The civilian bureaucracy, thus, seems to have given itself a modified OROP. If anything is ‘unconscionable’, it has to be this.

I would urge Mr Jain to calculate the loss suffered by the armed forces through 5 generations —who have been deprived of their genuine entitlements since Independence—to get a sense of the neglect. He should also calculate the cost of financial bonanza granted by the civil service system to itself through the CPCs, especially the NFU, which rewards inefficiency and see if there is an amount that can be saved from these heads to be used for OROP.

The author retired as a Brigadier with the Indian Army, and is  a recipient of the Vishisht Seva Medal

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