The Big Picture-The OROP Imbroglio: Where Does the Truth Lie?
The One Rank One Pension scheme controversy has revived with the veteran soldier Ram Kishan Grewal committing suicide in the capital few days back. This tragic incidence and the detention of Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister of New Delhi and Congress Vice President has forced a relook at the entire scheme which the Government has claimed to have been implemented. Recently, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi also declared that the OROP Scheme has been implemented and already Rs. 5500 crores have been paid in instalments. However, many veterans still claim that the Scheme has not been implemented as promised.
Where does the problem lie?
The 40-50% dissatisfaction among lower ranks compared to 80-90% satisfaction at officer level is a fact and this is what is being described as technical problem by the Government which is not the case here. The problem lies in the implementation. The tragedy lies in the fact that the Prime Minister made promises publicly of doing something that nobody has done before. When soldiers are sitting at the Jantar Mantar for 500 odd days, there was a requirement that someone from the Government senior enough should have gone to meet them which did not happen.
There were anomalies which were existent in the interpretation of OROP. These were supposed to be examined by Justice Narasimha Reddy Committee by looking at the representations made by ex-servicemen and also from Government’s side of fiscal implications. All this was to be reconciled and presented to the Government based on which the final call was to be taken.
Some of the major concerns highlighted by the veterans are:
1. Annual equalisation of pension as against the approved five years.
2. Exclusion of those who opt for premature retirement (PMR) from the ambit of OROP
3. Implementation from April 2014
4. Adoption of the highest pay scale of 2013 for revising pension.
The government’s predicament is obvious. Except for PMR, all these are financial issues and have budgetary implications. Annual pension revision for over 20 lakh people would also be an administrative challenge. There is controversy over the disability pension and 7th Pay Commission among the others. It is a fact that armed forces have never been represented in any of the Central Pay Commissions. This combination of factors together has come to a stage where the military to a large extent and certain degree of justification feels betrayed especially when this issue was hyped so much for political gain.
The Government which is in power today decided to use OROP as a political platform to try and raise concern about it when it was in opposition. When an apolitical organisation like Indian Army is used as a political platform, it is not good. These services are unlike the other services because in no other service either the police or bureaucracy, the younger profile has to be maintained. In case of army, the servicemen retire by the age of 30-35 years. There are social responsibilities which are to be taken care of by these people as well.
What the Government has finally approved is not OROP but it is equivalent of one rank more than one pension cutting across all ranks.
There has been certain level of abdication by the political level of the country when it comes to the matter of national security. From 1991 to 2016, there has not been a single debate in Parliament which could be deemed to be either constructive or meaningful on a range of issues including the fact that the Indian military is in dire need of modernization and policy decisions. Everything that happens is generally ad hoc. During the time of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, there was an institutional attempt to progressively lower the status of a soldier in relation to the rest of the ecosystem. Bureaucracy is said to have a place in governance ecosystem sidelining those who actually have a role to play in national security.
Solution lies in taking the army out from bureaucratic control. The Government should communicate with those protesting on Jantar Mantar bridging the gaps. If soldiers are handling all sorts of tensions for our nation right from terrorism to natural calamities, they need to be given their due share of honour, dignity and respect.