Almost every Indian would have heard of the term ‘One rank one pension’ or OROP for short. Not many outside the uniform may understand its meaning and the rationale behind this demand. OROP is grant of equal pension to two pensioners that retire from the same rank with equal length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. At present whenever pensions are enhanced, such as during the ten-yearly pay commissions, the enhancement is only given prospectively and does not cover past pensioners. The gap between the old and new pensioners thus keeps increasing with every successive pay commission.
OROP is grant of equal pension to two pensioners that retire from the same rank with equal length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement.
Why is it necessary for military pensioners? All government employees serve up to 60 years. However, with a view to keeping the defence forces young, they are retired early. Even among them there is a difference between officers and those of lower ranks. The officers retire by rank-cum-age: Colonels and below at 54 years, Brigadiers at 56, Maj Generals at 58 and Lt Generals at 60. Thus only the Lt Generals, who constitute less than 1 percent of the officer population, serve up to the age of sixty, at which all non-defence employees retire. The defence employees other than commissioned officers are much worse off. They retire by rank-cum-service. Almost 85 percent of them retire before reaching the age of 40. There is no compensation for the mental trauma a person suffers on being deprived of his job in the prime of his life when his family commitments are at a peak. There should at least be a part compensation in terms of financial remuneration. This is the rationale for the demand of OROP; it partially compensates for early retirement and that also on a paltry pension.
For the veterans OROP has acquired emotional overtones as its denial is being considered synonymous with denial of justice. OROP demand first originated in 1982 but acquired noticeable momentum after the founding of Indian Ex Servicemen Movement in 2008. Over its long journey, it has travelled through many political formations headed by different parties. Several parliamentary defence committees had recommended it but no ruling dispensation had approved it. Finally, on 17 February 2014, the UPA government announced grant of OROP on the floor of the Parliament. The government notification is still awaited. The definition of OROP is unambiguous: ‘equal rank, equal service, equal pension’ with any future increase in pension being automatically passed on to the past pensioners. ‘Equity in perpetuity’ sums up the nuances of OROP. This was also so emphasised by the multi-party Rajya Sabha Petitions Committee headed by Shri BS Koshyari that submitted its report December 2011.
In the follow-up discussions in the Ministry of Defence, the bureaucracy dealing with finances has been trying hard to find difficulties for the solution of OROP. Through a not-very-subtle reading between the lines, they are twisting the speech by the Finance Minster while announcing OROP in Parliament on 17 February and gleaning their own interpretation. They are also ignoring the clarification reiterated by the erstwhile Defence Minister Shri AK Antony, who chaired the first such meeting on 26 February 2014.
We as veterans have no statistics to work out the exact financial outlay involved in grant of OROP. We have always reiterated that our demand is based on equity and justice and not on money per se.
The financial fiefdom may have their own reasons to try and undercut the grant of full OROP. Even if one rules out peer jealousy, they may be doing so to guard their treasury. They will also try to browbeat the decision makers by projecting the cost involved prohibitive. However, there is no novelty in such attempts. Financial constraints was one the reasons – read excuses – touted by the erstwhile UPA government in denying OROP all along. We as veterans have no statistics to work out the exact financial outlay involved in grant of OROP. We have always reiterated that our demand is based on equity and justice and not on money per se. That holds true and the government must meet its obligation to veterans.
Notably, the President, while addressing the joint session of Parliament has spoken of the government resolve to grant OROP. So has the Defence Minster subsequently. The fact that in his dual-hatted role Mr Arun Jaitly is also the Finance Minister can only help. He would be able to override any fiscal objections to derail OROP, or to insert any conditionality in its grant by his North Block ministry. In fact this writer ruefully recalls that when we were fighting for enhancement of widows’ pension, the then Defence Minister had approved it on 14 November 2011. Even after that the Financial Ministry put many spokes and the proposal finally fructified only in September 2012 after a gap of 10 months.
The veterans have been short-changed so many times, their apprehension is understandable. However, with the Prime Minister himself having committed grant of OROP from the deck of our aircraft carrier Vikramaditya on 14 June 2014, we need to put our minds at rest. Mr Narendra Modi has the reputation of matching his words with action.