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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Dishonouring honourable men

Implementation of OROP will be correcting a long-standing injustice

Since Independence, India has confronted five wars, raging insurgencies, grave externally-abetted terrorism and countless natural calamities. If there is an institution that has proved its mettle in all national emergencies with dauntless courage and rare professionalism, it is, unmistakably, the Indian military. Notwithstanding the general public’s respect for them, whether the Indian Armed Forces have received the esteem and recognition they deserves from the political and bureaucratic elite of the country, is a moot point.

For whatever reason—right, wrong or manufactured—the 2014 general elections in India were supposed to herald change. That was the promise made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to the national electorate, comprising 2.5 million ex-servicemen (ESM) as well. Thus, last year, after the elections, addressing the joint Houses of Parliament, President Pranab Mukherjee had unequivocally stated that “his government will do everything to repay the debt of our brave and selfless soldiers". He announced the establishment of the Veterans Commission to look after the welfare of ESM and war widows, the construction of a National War Memorial in New Delhi, and most importantly, the implementation of the long-awaited one rank, one pension (OROP) scheme for ESM. Regrettably, a year has passed and there has been no progress on any of these issues. The contentious OROP debate is back in news again and India’s ESM feel grossly let down.

It is important to comprehend the subtleties of OROP and how in the matter of pensions for other government services, a distinction has to be made for the Armed Forces.

Sadly, even the political leadership, fed by inaccurate and biased inputs from a self-serving bureaucracy, does not have a clear picture on what should be, in reality, a simple step to implement.

It is the considered opinion of many veterans in the country, that since Independence, there has been a continuous endeavour to downgrade and denigrate the military in terms of its pay, pensions and the Warrant of Precedence (the protocol list in which functionaries and officials are listed according to their rank and office in the government of India).

In the 1950s, a brigadier’s pension was equivalent to that of a chief secretary of a state, while today the latter is equivalent to that of an army commander.

What exactly is OROP?

It is important to define it, for lately, the bureaucracy is trying to find loopholes in something that has, mercifully, been sanctified by the Supreme Court itself. OROP implies the payment of uniform pension to military personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. ESM who retired before 2006 get pensions that are 70% less than their counterparts and even juniors who retired after them. This is an unacceptable disparity.

Not many are aware that around 80% of military personnel are compulsorily retired between the ages of 34 to 37, whereas all other government employees (including in the civil services, police and paramilitary) serve and draw salaries till the age of 60. If the government permits all Armed Forces personnel to serve till 60, OROP will not be required at all. But then, the physical profile of the military has to be kept young.

The government must ensure that bureaucrats and other vested interests do not override genuine grievances of veterans on any technical, administrative or legal grounds while implementing OROP. Both Prime Minister Modi and defence minister Manohar Parrikar have repeatedly assured veterans that OROP will come into effect soon.

Its implementation will be correcting a long-standing injustice. It is sure to lift the morale and motivation of serving military personnel who will be joining the ranks of ESM in the coming years. It is important to remember that a nation that does not look after its soldiers surely invites doom.

Kamal Davar was the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency and was General Officer Commanding Ladakh in the mid-1990s.

Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com

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