Military & Aerospace

OROP – another wild goose chase?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 13 Jul , 2019

In infancy days of the National Security Guard (NSG), the then Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Home Minister LK Advani arrived to review their annual day parade. As he alighted from the car, he was received by the DG NSG who merely mentioned that the ‘boys’ expected ‘something’ from him. After reviewing the parade, Advani announced during his address that the NSG Allowance will be 25% of the Basic Pay. No questions were asked and the NSG Allowance was implemented from same day with payments commencing within three months.  

The 7th CPC raised the NSG Allowance to 40% of Basic Pay, also authorizing this to the SPG, RAF (part of CRPF) and the PDG, which was implemented vide PCDA (Central Command) circular number PT/3088/CGDA/Vol-VIII dated 05/10/2017. Recently, the government authorized the Non Functional Upgradation (NFU) Allowance to the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), which has been consistently denied to Armed Forces. Compare all this to the wild goose chase for the One Rank, One Pension (OROP), which has been set in motion by the CGDA. But before this, there is need to understand what OROP is all about.

OROP is neither a ‘demand’ nor a ‘deal’ as is often projected in media. It is a right of soldiers that was given from 1947 for the next 26 years. But in a severe blow to Armed Forces in 1973, the 3rd CPC arbitrarily reduced the pension of military veterans from 70% of pay to 50% and increased that civilians from 30% to 50% without reference to Armed Forces Headquarters, and also discontinued OROP and its automatic yearly revision of pension without any justification.  Ironically, this was done two years after the historic victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak War including capture of 93,000 Pakistan prisoners of war – highest after World War II. Of the 16 million Americans serving in World War II, over 120,000 were taken prisoners. In the European Theatre 93,941 Americans were taken prisoners.

In 2008, government under Manmohan Singh granted OROP to civilian and police officers even though OROP was not a transparently stated civil service or police officers demand. Wily bureaucrat that Manmohan Singh was, the decision was taken not by Parliament, or any ministerial committee, but by bureaucrats in Department of Pensions and Pensioners’ Welfare (DOP&PW), and the Prime Minister’s Office. The implementation too was not by public notification, but a cunningly worded “internal memorandum” issued by DOP&PW under Manmohan Singh, as revealed by Avay Shukla, former IAS officer of 1975 batch. Whether  Machiavellian Manmohan Singh portraying innocent countenance of a wet cat is not known but his aim was to silence those privy the black deeds over which he presided; all bureaucrats and police officers especially since latter also man intelligence agencies. It didn’t matter if in addition to OROP, these individuals continued to extract their own pound of flesh or became partners in organized ‘cut’ in all future ‘deals’. 

With growing unease in Armed Forces, and escalating protest by veterans, the Government in 2011 set up of Committee headed by BJP MP Bhagat Singh Koshiyari to look into grant of OROP to Armed Forces. Known as Koshiyari Committee, the 10-member committee had members from all major political parties including the BJP, INC, CPM, Samajwadi Party and Anna DMK. The Committee deliberated the issue over eight months. Ironically, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) headed by AK Anthony, Ministry of Finance (MoF) headed by Pranab Mukherjee and Ministry of Personnel under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in their written submissions to Koshiyari Committee opposed grant of OROP to the Armed Forces, which made it abundantly clear that setting up of the Committee was aimed an eyewash. Secretary MoD (DESW), Secretary Department of Expenditure (MoF) and Secretary DOP&PW deposed before the Koshyari Committee on behalf of respective ministries, all opposing grant of OROP to Armed Forces. However, the Committee delivered a kick to the government for “Bureaucratic Apathy” shown to the Armed Forces since 1973 and arbitrary decision by the 3rd CPC to stop OROP for which they were unable to provide any justification

The Koshiyari Committee in submitting its report on December 19, 2011 said that “there is merit in the demand for One Rank One Pension by Armed Forces Personnel” and strongly recommended that, “Government should implement OROP in the defence forces across the board at the earliest and further that for future, the pay, allowances, pension, family pension, etc. in respect of the defence personnel should be determined by a separate commission so that their peculiar terms” are properly taken into account. Importantly, the Committee also stated OROP “implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces Personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners”. This left no doubt that if OROP was not revised or actualized on annual basis (as was being done before 1973 of Armed Forces and being done for civilian and police officers with effect from 2008 but Manmohan Singh government), it would be unfair to Armed Forces personnel and could hardly be termed OROP.

But the UPA II government sat over the committee report for next two years, till presenting its last budget in early 2014, when it announced that OROP was accepted for Armed Forces and that Rs 500 cr had been earmarked for the purpose. The manner in which AK Anthony was grinning and thumping the table like an excited mongoose in parliament indicated he knew the sum mentioned meant sweet nothing and that he didn’t need worry about implementation given the looming electoral defeat of the government. Earlier, at a pre-election rally of ex-servicemen at Rewari in Haryana on September 15, 2013, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi thundered that had BJP formed the government in 2004, OROP would have been granted then itself, and that it would be granted once BJP comes to power in 2014.

BJP formed the government on May 26, 2014. The first part-time Defence Minister Arun Jaitley suffering from cancer barely showed up for about 20 minutes in MoD every day. However, his successor Manohar Parrikar later held a press briefing stating OROP was accepted and that estimated cost to the exchequer would be Rs 8,000-10,000 cr which would increase in future. However, MoD and Defence Accounts had concurrently worked out that finances required for OROP were Rs 8,293 cr. OROP approved included: benefit with effect from 1st July 2014; arrears to be paid in four half-yearly installments – single installment for widows; 2013 taken as base year; pension re-fixed for all retiring in same rank and with the same length of service as the average of minimum and maximum pension in 2013. Those drawing pensions above the average to be protected; personnel who voluntarily retire will not get OROP; pension would be re-fixed every 5-years, and to examine interests of retirees of different periods and different ranks and inter-service issues a One Member Judicial Committee would be constituted which will give its report in six months; PM’s commitment to OROP is fulfilled and MoD will soon issue implementation orders.

However, by stipulating that “pension would be re-fixed every 5-years”, it was not OROP by any stretch of imagination, but a one-time raise in pension.  As mentioned above, the Koshiyari Committee had clearly stated the OROP “implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces Personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners”. This left no doubt that if OROP was not revised or actualized on annual basis (as was being done before 1973 of Armed Forces and being done for civilian and police officers with effect from 2008 but Manmohan Singh government), it would be unfair to Armed Forces personnel and could hardly be termed OROP. Re-fixation every five years meant that soldiers retiring later within the five year period get higher pension than those retired earlier, which defeats the purpose of OROP.  This matters a lot at the soldier level, which constitute 99% of retirees, even though the protests over OROP are being portrayed an officer problem, which constitute just 1% of veterans. 

In his press briefing on OROP, Defence Minister Parrikar had also said that personnel who voluntarily retire will not get OROP. He was obviously reading out a mischievous script given by bureaucrats, without realizing the ambiguity that would be created by such language. There is no VRS in the military. Pre-mature retirement can be sought without completing minimum pensionable service or after completing minimum pensionable service. Personnel in the latter category draw pensions and are entitled to OROP. But by just mentioning “early retirement” the bureaucrat deliberately clubbed both, ruling out OROP for both categories. Aim was at open the Pandora box for those who had completed minimum pensionable service and draw pension, compelling them to resort to prolonged correspondence and knock on the doors of Courts, some winning individually and some carry on fighting till they are exhausted or kicked the bucket.

The difference between granting OROP and one time increase in pension with re-fixation after five years is small in financial terms. The inside story is that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was all for granting full OROP to Armed Forces but his predecessor Finance Minister Arun Jailtley put his foot down, much to the glee of the bureaucrats.  The ‘real’ constraints why Modi had to give two important ministries (Defence and Finance) to a sick Arun Jaitley in 2014 are known only to some BJP insiders. This may emerge in public domain sometime in future but it had little to do with Modi being new to Delhi and Jaitley conversant with parliamentary dealings, because Jaitley didn’t figure in the initial cabinet formation reckoning. Jailtley could never recover from losing his deposit to Captain Amrinder Singh fighting elections in 2014 from Amritsar, and had reportedly threatened that he would see to the uniformed lot – “dekh lenge”.

The excuse given by Jaitley was that re-fixation of pensions (read OROP) was “not possible” annually. This despite it was being done for civilians and police annually, while banks do this on daily basis. It was a clear case of ‘dog in the manger’, which in the instant case had all the authority. Wonder if Jaitley ever thought that the curse of lakhs of veterans could contribute in pushing him closer to the grave at the age of 66. Additionally, whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi realizes it or not, his public exhortations that OROP has been granted by BJP are grossly untrue – it is only one time raise in pension. Same goes for his ministers including new Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

With continuing protests over OROP and despite peacefully protesting veterans at Jantar Mantar being baton-charged by police, the NDA-II government appointed a one-man commission, headed by former Justice L Narasimha Reddy of Patna High Court, to look into the anomalies of implementation of OROP. If the government was so convinced that OROP was already granted, where was the question of anomalies, and why appoint this commission? The aim obviously was the same as when the Koshiyari Committee was appointed – play out the farce and nothing would come out of it. But when the Reddy Commission submitted its report to government on October 26, 2016, BJP apparently received similar shock as Congress suffered through the Koshiyari Committee Report – both reports favouring Armed Forces. So, the Reddy Commission Report was put in deep freeze and remains so.

20 months after the Reddy Commission submitted its report, the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated in July 2018, ‘We are examining the report of retired chief justice of Patna High Court, L Narasimha Reddy”. Parliament was also informed that another committee has been appointed to examine recommendations of the Reddy Commission report (sic). On January 3, 2019, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Centre on a public interest litigation alleging inordinate delay in removal of anomalies in the “initial implementation” of OROP, as ordered by the MoD in November 2015. Next in run up to the recent general elections, Sitharaman stated publicly on March 4, 2019, that the Centre would “shortly” review the scheme to review anomalies of OROP.    

But the subterfuge didn’t end there. July 1, 2019, was the date for re-fixation of pensions; five years after the raise was given. In June 2019, CGDA Sanjiv Milltal sought a clarification from the MoD, “whether any logic exists to initiate the process of OROP revision (equalization) once the pension of past and current pensioners was initiated on January 1, 2016”. Mittal is not in nappies and neither in primary school, but must be retard to not understand that though ‘initiated’ after the 7th Central Pay Commission, OROP for soldiers was ‘implemented’ with effect from July 1, 2014, and a gazette notification said pension would be equalized after five years; which implied with effect from July 1, 2019. Questions are: did MoD ask CGDA to begin the process of equalization of pensions; if yes, who is CGDA to question it, and; if not, who prompted the CGDA to seek such clarification now? Clearly, this is deliberate mischief between MoD’s Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) and the CGDA taking advantage of a new defence minister who would be unaware of the background of OROP.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has now constituted a Committee to examine the equalization of pensions of defence personnel with effect from 01 Jul 2019 under One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme, giving one month to the Committee to forward its recommendations.  The irony is that this committee is being headed by the same dimwit-cum-mischief monger Sanjiv Milltal, the CGDA. As this article goes for publication, more than three weeks are already over from date of Rajnath Singh’s directive for appointing this committee. What games will continue to be played with the veterans are yet to be seen in this unending chain of committee and the stratagem of ambiguity, deceit and denial.

Two other issues merit discussion here. First is the perpetual talk of numbers and paucity of funds, and that military modernization is not possible because of this, despite every budget announcement including the one presented Piyush Goyal holding additional charge of Defence Minister on February 1, 2019 which  specifically mentioned that the defence budget is separate from pension allocations. But that is not the only issue. The combined strength of police and CAPF exceeds that of the 14.5 lakh-strong military. Add to this multiple governmental civilian services – the numbers would be eye openers. When all of them have been given OROP since 2008, VRS and now NFU, why this allergy towards Armed Forces? Can the Finance Minister and Defence Minister explain why 44% of defence pensions are consumed by 22% of civilian-defence employees, why does India have an absurd ratio of 6.5 lakh civilian defence employees in a 14.6 lakh military, why a civilian-defence official is costing five times more than his or her uniformed counterpart whether serving or retiree, why should MoF personnel in MoD are drawing pension from the defence pension budget on retirement, and why do we need Defence (Finance) in MoD when every decision is taken by MoF and Derence Minister must seek approval of FM for anything over Rs 100 cr?

The second issue is about politicization of OROP that the protests are Congress generated and that the leader (Major General Satbir Singh) is a Congress stooge. Ironically this is also being thumped by some veterans afflicted by the ‘blind bhakti syndrome’ (https://hillpost.in/2019/03/the-blind-bhakti-syndrome/111469/), in the hope of bagging more goodies for themselves. One has never visited Jantar Mantar but if that indeed was the case, then Satbir and some more would have been nominated to the Rajya Sabha long time back. The blind bhakt veterans fail to acknowledge that the protesting veterans are fully aware of how Congress and BJP have dealt with OROP, hence the allegation is foolish. Ministers have also been harping that if Satbir withdrew the protests, government would grant full OROP. Ironically this has been parroted by the current Army Chief, who is under flak for actions against soldiers, veterans, disabled, you name it. But this amounts to government admission that full OROP indeed has NOT been granted. Also, if few protesters can make the government deny OROP to lakhs of veterans, what sorts of pussyfooting government do we have? Besides, isn’t Satbir protesting on behalf of veterans (only 1% of who are officers) far better than many of the goons facing criminal charges brought into Parliament?

Among many close friends questioned in the RSS, why the RSS has turned against Armed Forces, they all deny this is not the case at all, Modi himself having been a RSS pracharak in the past. They cannot comment on whether this attitude of the government is because Modi is steeped in Gujarat’s centuries old focus on business-trade and relations and reliance on police forces. No doubt every citizen whether in uniform or not serves India. But do we learn something from Somnath Temple having been looted and destroyed by Mahmud Ghazni, Ala-ud-Din Khilji and Aurangzeb no less than 17 times? Not many from Gujarat join Armed Forces even today. However,  deeper analysis would link such governmental behaviour to Manmohan Singh’s 2008 strategy, as discussed above; please bureaucracy and police, damn the military. BJP’s own ministers have cashed on it. One example being elevation and expansion of Defence Estates by Nirmala Sitharamn as Defence Minister, despite Defence Estates being labeled the smallest and most corrupt branch of MoD by CAG, recommending its dissolution and its functions merged with Services HQ.

It is naïve to think above issues affect only the veterans, not the serving. It is also unthinkable that PM Narendra Modi is unaware of all this. Defence cannot rely on procurement of big-ticket weapon systems alone, the man behind the gun is equally important, if not more.  The first budget of the present government presented on July 5, 2019 ignored defence completely (http://www.spslandforces.com/experts-speak/?id=534&h=First-Budget-of-Modi-2-defence-ignored). Surprisingly all “free media” shunned making any mention of this, including veterans making frequent appearances on TV shows – most of whom being in the category of blind bhakts. How India deals with its soldiers and poor defence allocations by a country headed for a $3-5 trillion economy is being watched closely by China. PM Modi is unquestionably all powerful today but it is up to him to take a call whether he wants posterity to remember him like Nehru and Manmohan Singh who considered Armed Forces a liability at best or a necessary evil.  

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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5 thoughts on “OROP – another wild goose chase?

  1. One would agree with the celebrated General rank officer for he would measure each word before submitting to the Journal. Surely the General would know the intricacies of OROP case. As mentioned and if true though rumours and unsubstantiated media does suggest that Mr Jailtley did take his defeat suspecting Faujis did not come out wholeheartedly to vote for him. As a revenge attitude all efforts were concertated to deny the rightful weightage to Lakhs of retired PBORs, widows and officer.
    One wishes the GOI under the patronage of PM Modi and present Defence Minister take a decision to ensure equality before the law and bring to halt a confrontational approach to the guardians of our borders.

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