By Arati Nair:
The famous American military leader, General Douglas MacArthur once said, “Old soldiers do not die, they just fade away.” He borrowed it from a song popular among British soldiers during World War I. Quoting this bit of trivia from an ugly period of the world’s military history is significant as it rings true even today. A case in point is the ongoing turbulence surrounding the implementation of the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme in India.
After a prolonged period of inertia, the retired personnel from the armed forces have renewed their protests, including hunger strikes, against the delay in implementing the OROP. Last week, various organizations of ex-servicemen initiated nation-wide protests, including in the national capital, following the failure of talks with the government. The main bone of contention for these groups is the reluctance of the authorities to provide a time-frame for implementation of the scheme. The issue is being shuttled between the defence ministry (MoD) and the ministry of finance, which has further irked veteran soldiers throughout the country. That a poll promise of the BJP has now seemingly become a question of political largesse, has not gone down well either.
Why Are The Veterans Demanding OROP?
One Rank One Pension provides for the same pension for the same length of service by personnel of the same rank, irrespective of the date of retirement. Any increments in pension rates are to be added onto the past pensioners’ pay as well. This definition was accepted by the last committee to deliberate on the issue, the Koshyari Committee (2011). It will benefit over 20 lakh ex-servicemen and about six lakh war widows. In essence, this scheme, if implemented, would not discriminate among veterans, war widows etc. on the pesky premise of retirement date.
In this context, the organizers of the nation-wide war cry for the OROP have faced the brunt of numerous problems and justify their demands on several counts, like lack of parity with the civil services, inequity with the paramilitary forces and superseding powers of the bureaucracy.
What’s The Tiff With The Bureaucracy?
The OROP, axed in 1973 during the authoritarian Indira regime to equalize civil and military pay, is hardly a new concept. Most of the dilly-dallying, as alleged by various organizations of ex-servicemen partaking in the demonstrations, can be attributed to the bureaucracy dragging its feet in this regard.
The non-functional upgrade (NFU) granted to the officers in all-India Group A services (IAS, IPS etc.) by the sixth Central Pay Commission (CPC) allows them higher pay than permissible for their rank during ‘certain’ conditions. This couteous gesture is limited to the bureaucracy, with no such additional aid being extended to the defence forces. Glaring disparities in field allowances of army special forces as against paramilitary commandos betrays the step-motherly attitude of the government towards the former. With limited prospects for career growth when compared to their contemporaries in the civil services, defence personnel deem themselves entitled for a hike in pay/pension to bridge the gap.
Even as the stalemate over OROP continues, the veterans accuse the civil servants of covertly sabotaging their efforts. This includes attempts to dilute the definition of the scheme and even suggesting alternative models such as the one proposed by the departments of the MoD, which seeks to implement OROP for those pensioners who retired prior to 2006.
This exercise has been been dubbed as a design by the bureaucratic machinery to scale down the demands of ex-servicemen, and exercise its one-upmanship over the military.
Why Aren’t Politicos Listening?
The politicians are equally culpable for the present scenario. A Supreme Court judgement, providing suffrage rights to serving defence personnel in their area of posting, compelled all political parties to extend piecemeal offers to appease them. The present government, in particular, vociferously supported the implementation of the OROP and its benevolence for the armed forces was evident by the appointment of ex-army officials like General V.K. Singh and Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to key positions in various ministries. But when General V.K. Singh says- “The Prime Minister has made a promise regarding OROP. It will be implemented. There is some delay because calculations are going on. Therefore it is taking time“, he is reiterating the government’s position with little substantive effort to echo the sentiments of his defence brethren.
The initial fervour now seems lacking, with the centre working on a fresh draft governmental letter (DGL) as opposed to the one forwarded by the defence services headquarters. Thus, the accepted definition of OROP is bound to be tinkered with.
A highly disciplined section of our population had to take to the streets and sign petitions in blood in a mad dash attempt to jolt the authorities into action. The government, hiding behind technicalities, has propped feeble excuses like fund scarcity and inter-ministerial discord as its armour against the wrath of these betrayed citizens. The protesters, in their desperation, are even willing to set aside their pathological disagreement with the opposition and seek help from the Congress.
Relinquishing medals did not awaken the last government. War veterans like Havildar Kaka Singh (retd.), rendered blind during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, are still lying in wait for the leadership of the country to consider their plight. This scathing open letter by Honorary Lieutenant Kameshwar Pandey conveys the despondence slowly pervading our fauji ranks. It remains to be seen if the country-wide protests will yield any results. Or will our old soldiers, as is the universal case, simply fade away?