Flanked by the three Service Chiefs finally came the Defence Minister’s press briefing on OROP on afternoon of September 5. The media was agog past two days that the “deal” was being finalized. To put the record straight OROP is no “deal”. It is the right of military veterans that was given from 1947 for the next 26 years. Then in 1973, the 3rd CPC that arbitrarily reduced the pension of military veterans from 70% of pay to 50%, discontinued OROP and automatic yearly revision of pension without any justification. Among the political skullduggery on OROP including police action against legally and peacefully protesting military veterans at Jantar Mantar on August 14, the public would not know that the MoD under AK Anthony, MoF under Pranab Mukherjee and Ministry of Personnel under Manmohan Singh then PM in their written and oral submissions opposed grant of OROP to the Armed Forces while Secretary MoD (DESW), Secretary Department of Expenditure (Ministry of Finance) and Secretary Department of Pensions and Pensioner’s Welfare (Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions deposed before the Koshyari Committee on behalf of respective ministries. The Koshyari Committee lambasted them all 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 to the Koshyari Committee that was headed by veteran BJP MP Bhagat Singh Koshyari had 10 MPs drawn from all major political parties including BJP, INC, CPM, Samajwadi Party and Anna DMK.
The Defence Minister in his press briefing stated that the estimated cost to the exchequer would be Rs. 8,000 to 10,000 crore at present, and will increase further in future. Incidentally very recently the MoD and Defence Accounts had worked out that the finances required or OROP is Rs 8,293 crores. The OROP announced included: benefit will be wef 1st July 2014; arrears will 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 will 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.
Those who have read the Koshiyari Committee Report accepted by both the erstwhile government would know that a 5-year equalization of pay defeats the very definition of OROP as every 5-year window would find earlier retirees getting less pension from the later retiring junior counterparts. The annual equalization amount in a four year period is only Rs 165.86 crores taking the present required amount of Rs 8,293 crores. Therefore, the only reason of denying it is the politico-bureaucratic obduracy at the Finance Ministry level. More importantly 100 percent of Railways, bureaucracy, judiciary, parliamentarians and civil defence employees are getting OROP and annual equalization of pensions, so why is the military being singled out to deny this benefit especially when annual equalization was very much part of the Koshyari Committee who had also explained in detail why the military cannot be compared with any other government service. So if the military is to be denied annual equalization of pension, would the government rescind the same from others mentioned herein? The bottom-line is that what has been granted is cannot be classified as OROP with the stipulation of 5-year equalization of pensions. Both the Finance Minister and the Defence Minister would be hard put to explain why 45 percent of existing defence pension outlay is being consumed by 22 percent of civilian employees of the MoD. Can there be any justification for this?
As mentioned in these columns earlier, money is never the constraint to deny annual equalization of pensions. In the period 2007-2013 government banks accumulated bad debts amounting to Rs 5,00,000,00,00,000 which were written off by the Finance Ministry. More significantly, RBI revealed that ‘95%’ were large loans to ‘big companies ‘. This is just one example which perhaps is standard practice by all governments. Then look at the bad debts of sick PSUs including Air India being written off – some even inflated for understandable reasons. Incidentally, MoD surrendered Rs 6000 crores on 31st March this year as also Rs 1000 crores or the National War Memorial lapsed same day.
The Defence minister has announced that personnel who voluntarily retire will not get OROP. Considering that he was reading out from a script, the ambiguity that would be created by such language is a clear mischief of the bureaucracy – which the Defence Minister would perhaps be unaware of. There is no VRS in the military. Pre-mature retirement can be sought without completing minimum pensionable service or after completing minimum pensionable service. Obviously personnel in the latter category draw pensions and should logically be entitled to OROP. But by just mentioning “early retirement” the bureaucrat has clubbed both and ruled out OROP. This will open the Pandora box for those who had completed minimum pensionable service and draw pension 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 leave for their heavenly abode.
Coming to the announcement that a One member Judicial Committee would be appointed to examine interests of retirees of different periods and different ranks and inter-service issues with the mandate to give its report in six months, this does appear very strange and is being viewed as taking the veterans up the gum tree. What exactly was happening past these many months that interests of retirees of different periods and different ranks and inter-service issues have not been examined? And is these issues really have not been addressed then has the OROP announcement been timed with the Bihar elections, and if so why? If these issues could not been examined by the MoD, DESW, Finance Ministry, how can one man do so in six months unless the intention is to had him on a platter what should be his final recommendation which he can juggle backwards and justify. Why instead of one-man committee, it is not a panel with veteran representation on it? Is it just to keep the similarity with MoD and DESW that have no military representation by design? If the Defence Minister says that the government respects the armed forces, how is it that the already constituted 7th CPC has no representation from the military despite such demands past several years? How is it that when the Koshyari Committee recommended annual equalization of pensions and was accepted by the government, this is being backtracked.
The Defence Minister’s proclamation that Prime Minister Modi has fulfilled his promise on OROP is only half the truth. 5-yearly revision of pensions cannot be classified as OROP – which has been handed over as fait accompli to the veterans. So while OROP may have been announced, it has really not been sanctioned. The government has only fulfilled its promise partially. This cannot be obfuscated behind the euphoria being created that OROP has been announced after 42 years. The promise was made by the Prime Minister, so it was expected that promise will be met in full, which ironically has not happened.
Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.