The One Rank One Pay (OROP) issue for the armed forces has become a balloon that is being inflated continuously and is now close to its bursting point. The day it bursts it will play havoc with the nation in more ways than one. By default, the complete responsibility for the aftermath of the same will be dumped on the shoulders of the present NDA government as a whole and Mr Narendra Modi in particular. The fact that successive governments had been procrastinating on this issue will not come to the aid of Mr Modi or his government since all that is history. In principle any concept like OROP is bad in content since it ensures a ‘win-win’ situation for the recipients and a ‘lose-lose’ situation for the government on an eternal basis. It has to be understood that the recipient is not divorced from the government and vice versa. Therefore any one sided concept is not only unsound in principle but also not good for the nation’s health in the long run. If that be the case then it stands to reason that there is a need to find some other more practical solution.
Unfortunately the problem started with the greed and selfish action on part of the highest echelons in the Indian Administrative Services (IAS & IFS) when they covertly ensured OROP for all those who reached the ‘Apex Scale’ of basic pay of Rs 80,000. This was a clever move since nearly everyone in IAS or IFS reaches that scale by the time he or she retires. Thus nearly everyone from the IAS and IFS brotherhood was covered. To make it look like a universal phenomenon, a few posts in other allied administrative services and half the four star general posts in all three armed forces too were included in the Apex Scale. In nutshell while nearly all IAS/IFS officers were included in this scheme, a handful of others too were given a back door entry in the same to ensure that their parent services did not object or demand the same. This is probably the reason why successive military leaderships at the highest echelons did not really push for OROP for last forty years. In the recent past, OROP has also been made applicable to High Court judges including those who are inducted from the bar. This then is the genesis of the problem that the government of the day is now facing.
As far as the military (Army, Navy and Air force) is concerned, there is no doubt that their service conditions and terms of employment, even in normal times, are distinctively more severe than any other government service. In case of a war or conflict a normal citizen cannot even fathom the seriously dangerous and adverse conditions that a soldier faces in war zones. Therefore it may not be wrong to say that there is neither any basis nor any logic in making comparisons between the service conditions of a soldier and any other government employee. The government needs to clarify the same and take a firm stand on the same once for all to rest the matter. As a corollary to this it is clear that basis of fixation of pay and allowances of the military has to be divorced from that of other government services. There can be no common ‘terms of reference’ for any pay commission to decide on the emoluments of the military and other government employees with a view to maintain the ‘equation’. It may be prudent and necessary to have separate pay commissions for the military to ensure that they get a fair deal.
One of the prime reasons for the demand of OROP from the military has been because of the early retirement that most soldiers face. It is no secret that bulk of the ‘other ranks’ in the military retire between the ages of 38 to 45 years. On the contrary in all other government services and in civil, this is possibly the prime age group from where one takes off for a better future, both monetarily and professionally. This is denied to most soldiers because of the need to keep the overall profile of the military young, something that is of paramount importance if the military has to be effective. There are a host of other reasons too but this one reason in itself should be more than sufficient to justify the fact that a soldier needs to be compensated for this to ensure that he can manage a minimum decent life with self respect even after this forced early retirement. The same logic is true for those unfortunate families who lose their bread winner in wars or internal conflicts at a young age.
Demand for OROP came about since it appears to be one obvious solution to the above problem. But in hindsight OROP does not seem to be the optimum solution. Therefore other solutions need to be explored to resolve the problem. One possible solution lies in the problem itself. The problem is that most soldiers retire at an early age. The solution is based on the premise that the nation can look after the soldier for a few more years before he actually starts getting his pension. The aim being to give him a few more years for resettlement once he is out of uniform. This means that if a soldier retires at 40 years of age, the government guarantees him his last pay drawn, till say 50 years of age after which he becomes a pensioner. It will be fair if some specific allowances related to service conditions like free rations and uniform allowance are withdrawn as long as the basic and rank pay are assured. Once the soldier attains the age of 50 years, his pension could then be fixed as applicable from that day at rates as applicable on that day. This logic could be applied for all those who retire prior to the age of 50 years. Unlike OROP such a move will not be eternal in nature since there will be a cut off at the age of 50. However, it has to be understood that this kind of arrangement can only be instituted for those who are still in service. It will not help those who have already retired. Frankly for those who have already retired the government has to come up with some out of the box solution other than OROP. May be a onetime up-gradation to the pension levels as applicable on the basis of the 2006 Pay Commission could go a long way in mitigating the financial woes of a large section of ex servicemen. A completely rigid attitude on part of either the ex servicemen or the government is not likely to resolve the problem in any manner.
It will also be prudent for the government to rethink the OROP scheme that the IAS/ IFS fraternity have granted themselves and withdraw it unconditionally to avoid the OROP monster raising its head any time again in the future. If this is not done then the government has no grounds to oppose the same for military or other government services. Frankly these Apex Grade officers will hardly lose anything since all of them are more than well off financially at the time of their retirement. The same would also be true for the High Court judges and therefore the OROP granted to them too should be withdrawn.
In conclusion all one can state is that all of us belong to the nation and therefore we are the nation. If that be true it stands to reason that one cannot chase unviable solutions or make demands on the nation that have the potential to bleed the nation in the long run. There will be times and periods in the history of any nation where some generations may feel that they have been hard done by the system as a whole. This will be particularly true for a poor nation that is in the developing mode and more so if the nation is as large as India is. May be there is a case for some of us to accept the same and seek consolation by terming it as a sacrifice in the service of the nation. It may sound a bit too idealistic but then when the nation calls, a soldier is never far from being idealistic.