OROP–The Mess Gets Bigger

In my thirty-five years in government I have rarely seen an explosive issue being mismanaged as amateurishly as the OROP conundrum has been – and I’ve seen quite a few goof-ups, believe me!

Considering that successive governments have had forty years to consider the issue, one would have expected that they would have prepared a blueprint for their response – the give and take of all negotiations – and defused it long before the almost mutinous situation we have now reached. As someone said – sitting on the fence for too long makes the iron enter your soul (and if the fence breaks other, more substantial things can enter places other than the soul !). This is what has happened to Mr. Modi’s government, and to the Ex-servicemen Movement( ESM) too, for the latter’s over vaunting ambition has messed up matters for it also.

To begin with, both the Congress and Mr. Vajpayee’s government were right in not touching the OROP demand with a barge pole – it’s a financial monstrosity which can, and will, bankrupt the country, has no parallel anywhere in the world, and defies logic. They were dead wrong, however, in not addressing the underlying issues and grievances which confer a semblance of justification in the demand for OROP. These include: anomalies in salaries/scales/promotions as compared to the civil services (of which the IAS is the generally accepted hated face!), not all of which can be justified, though some can; the deep distrust between the military and the political/executive establishment; and most important of all, the plight of the ordinary jawan who retires at 35 with no other future prospect than to become a security guard in some agency, his years of training and fighting skills consigned to the dustbin.

Soldier OROP

Mr. Modi had a chance to address this Herculean challenge, with his majority and unquestioned hold over both the party and the government. But he proved that at the end of the day he is just a politician, after all – better packaged and clothed, certainly, but with the fatal weakness of all politicians viz. – open your mouth first and think later. His thrice reiterated promise of sanctioning OROP immediately – on a battlefield, on an aircraft carrier and at the Red Fort – put the fat in the fire which has become a conflagration now. He forgot the cardinal truth which all politicians would do well to remember, one enunciated by Mario Cumo many years ago – “You can campaign in poetry but you have to govern in prose.” The tragedy with Mr. Modi is that he didn’t have to open his mouth at all because the campaigning was long over when he did so!

As I had suggested in an earlier blog Mr. Modi should have ignored the OROP demand and done an outflanking manoeuvre by tackling the underlying issues. He should have asked himself the following questions:

  • Why is it that OROP has been allowed to only the elite few in the Apex scale? Since this is the main heartburn its abolition should have been considered seriously across the board, including Judges, CVC, CAG, UPSC Chairman, Cabinet Secretary, three and four star Generals and other entitled bureaucrats.
  • How do we compensate army officers for their restricted promotions due to the pyramidal structure of the armed forces? Why not allow some form of NFU (‘non-functional-upgradation’) to them also, that does not interfere with the chain of command – say, allow the next higher scale after a specified number of years even if it is not a promotion to that post ? This would have ensured that a Colonel, for example, retired in a Brigadier’s scale even if he could not be promoted to that post, with all the ensuing pensionary benefits of the higher scale.
  • Is it not a gross injustice, and a waste of a valuable national resource, to retire highly trained and disciplined soldiers at the age of 35? Why can we not absorb them against the 50000 odd vacancies in the para military forces every year, with their pay and seniority protected? There would be self serving opposition from vested interests within the PMFs, naturally, but this can be handled with a mixture of tact and firmness: of what use is an absolute majority in Parliament, after all ? Is it to be used only for the purpose of hiking the allowances of MPs ?

If Mr. Modi (and a suddenly silent Mr. Jaitley) had addressed just these three issues immediately on assuming office the current agitation under the able but inflexible leadership of Major-General Satbir Singh would have been a non-starter. There would have been no raison d’etre for any agitation, because correction of the anomalies listed above would have resolved 90% of the GENUINE grievances of the armed forces, and the assumed grievances should have been dismissed firmly. And all this would have been achieved at a far more bearable cost to the nation, and without creating the anomalous mess we are now saddled with.

The government’s short-sighted and hasty announcement of a truncated OROP last week has satisfied no one. The ESM’s agitation continues, General Satbir Singh draws more TRPs and eyeballs than Sunny Leone (a bright political future undoubtedly awaits him), the ESM has splintered into different factions, making the task of negotiation that much more difficult, civilian employees through their apex body the NCJCM have submitted a memorandum to the 7th Pay Commission demanding OROP for all civil employees, the exchequer is poorer by 20000 crores this financial year and God only knows by how much in the coming years, the distrust between the government and the military has become wider, the armed forces appear to have mounted a disturbing challenge to the government. In an article in the Business Standard today Col ( Retd.) Ajai Shukla has stated that the ESM has “tasted blood” and will not back down. He has predicted that their next demand is already on the anvil – NFU for the military. The bureaucracy is no doubt preparing its own charter, including canteen facilities (termed OROB – One Rate One Bottle !), rank pay, Difficult Posting Allowance, free rations, and what not. Its going to be a hard winter of discontent for Mr. Modi’s government and he has only himself to blame.

Administering the right medicine at the right time is what wise governance is about. What Mr. Modi has done instead by his inept handling of the situation is to convert the HEAP BIG CHIEF into the HEAP BIG SHIT, and it’s about to hit the fan.

Join the Conversation


  1. says: S Singh

    Well, had the IAS not systematically pushed the Defence Forces into a corner over the years we probably would not be faced with this situation today.

    The IAS enjoys more than its fair share of perks and with their inner knowledge of the workings of the civil governments the officers somehow seem to develop a knack for making “wise investments” while in service – be it farm land near an upcoming by-pass road or purchasing a barren piece of land that will later be acquired by the Govt at exorbitant prices. The IAS officers just seem to keep getting lucky with these “investments”. And after a while, this gets a little irritating for other Govt servants, because on their Govt salary they cannot afford to purchase a 2BHK flat, let alone send their kids for holidays to the south of France.

    Now many learned ex-bureaucrats like yourself have justified of how only a few “bad-apples” tend to spot these “investment opportunities” , but Sir, by the looks of it we are dealing with a whole rotten apple orchard here!

    It it the officers of the elite civil services who are equally responsible for this SNAFU – your arrogance and “We Know Best” attitude about things that you all don’t really understand is what has got us here.

  2. says: Chand Seth

    Dear Avay
    Thanks for a well written piece on this OROP mess. You are absolutely correct that it can become a humongous problem as it spreads.
    While sympathising with the lower echelons of all the services, I really wonder why the seniors are making so much noise. I know for a fact that the pensions are fairly good at the higher levels. Cousin sister of a close friend lost her Naval Commodre husband due to normal causes about 10 years back at the age of 62 or so. She is getting a pension of about Rs 75000 per month!! Has a house in a tony area in Delhi, one son lives in USA – senior exec earning 200 k ++ pa. second son and wife both Doctors earning 3 or 4 lakhs per month. Also has interest in a successful garment business. Now she will get revised OROP.
    Another case for your info – a medical doctor took early retirement from a govt job after about 20 years of service about 20 years back as a senior medical officer – till today gets pension of 30000 per month.
    Other friends who did engineering, started small businesses, struggled through life, paid their taxes, provided employment and otherwise contributed to the same society managed to save a few lakhs in Provident Fund, now get pension of a few thousand per month. Some of The businessmen are still struggling At the age of 70 to survive, given the topsy turvy economy we have in the country today.
    Don’t know the answers but indeed need a healthy discussion.

    1. says: RG

      Dear Chand
      You seem to be hand in glove wih the think tank of whoever introduced VRS in OROP. I guess the aim being Divide and create confusion.
      Primarily what that lady’s kids do and earn is their concern and should be none of yours I’m sure.you could have asked if they look after her or not in her old age? If the kids are well settled are you suggesting as a future think tanker that pension should be stopped for such people. Then should it be doubled if the kids are not doing well. How cockeyed!

      The pension is for past services rendered and not for your future estimated life.
      I’m sure if you have worked somewhere you would know that.. And why only question the defense forces only. Why can’t you voice similar opinion about NFU for group A services. The NFU Is justified with a few sentences in English and if you read them, probably you would laugh.
      If you like to draw an analogy anywhere please don’t forget that the fauji signs on his death warrant when he enrolls for which he gets equated in salary to a clerk in Delhi who doesn’t come for work if he has one loose motion. The fauji can lose his life during the course of his duty for which he is compensated, respected and revered all over the world. And our faujis are the most disciplined and great soldiers. Do you know that in most white countries, young couples go to the war memorials to pay their respects and get photographed, immediately after getting married in the church..
      Our nation has been invaded from the north and northwest in history right from chengiz khan. Today if we are safe there, it is because we have the most formidable army in the world guarding it. The same soldier has to fight on the street after retirement for OROP is shameful for us as a nation despite the thing being accepted by parliament, various committees,SC etc. Now whom are waiting for to tell us ki Bhai inka bakaya inko de do.
      Hope you understand some bit.

  3. says: Satvinder SIngh

    Hello Mr Shukla.
    You are entitled to the viewpoint that you have espoused but I guess brevity has led to oversimplification. Somewhere down the line in the process of institutional capacity building and allowing the idea of true liberal values to permeate in our corridors of power we have bungled along. Tell me what domain specialities does IAS officers possess in matters military. They are sitting on judgement on borrowed knowledge from so called departments of GOI. Who advised the political masters to slug out in courts and then be in contempt of court orders. Who has resisted induction of mil offers in effective decision making in MoD.

    One can understand the geo political context of the times when PMFs were raised in order to ring fence the army. Continuous patronage and home ministry veto as an alternate center of gravity in continuum difficult to justify?

    Is civilian control of mil in a representative democracy means perpetual hegemony of IAS !

    These are just some of the thoughts that come to mind when one starts to talk on the subject.
    It’s better to change the status quo and face short term turbulence and through iterative process improve the system as a whole. To that end the struggle of OROP could be a good harbinger of change.

    My two pence. I took PRS from IAF two yrs back which has been now crafted by an ignorant IAS guy as VRS!

  4. says: Sanjeev

    Indians have very small heart as everyone is so self centred that they least brother for others. Rather being thankful to Almighty for whatever they got they keep on cribbing and sulking for why others are getting better. This is not nationalism, but actually worrying about fellow nationals where most of us struggling every second to earn a meal for them or there immediate depends and irony is this struggle goes till their last breath. Where do they go agitate for ensuring their basic needs for survival are met.

  5. says: Brinder

    Ajay is being true to his IAS babu roots by advocating OROP as a fiscal evil.
    He knows that the government will never abolish the privileges of his IAS compadres….
    So he is muddling the issue with typical IAS babu speak and even advocating that the elected government go back on its word…

  6. says: skm

    Typical myopic intellect of an administrator on display. He has not been able to guage the functional problems understandably so since most babus are rewarded for being Non Functional.
    I would say we disband the genaralist IAS and have specialists like CS(Civili Servant) Civic for Civic administration, CS Corporate for PSUs, CS Health for health services, CS Finance etc.
    Also Pay Commissions must ensure that AIS pay and allowance must not be greater than 10% of the Average of that of civil serants of the corresponding state cadre at the same years of service.
    Also Chief Secretaries of State must alternate between State cadre officers and AIS officers. Likewise for DsGP. 40% of Secretaries in the Centre must be from state cadres and once in 3 tenures the Cab Secy must be a State cadre officer.
    That would sort out this IAS induced bramhinical casteism in the Govt services.

  7. says: m.gopal.

    The people who never leaves their A/C offices and swivel chairs have no morality to speak against the OROP. In railways its cl four employees enjoy travel by 1st class with family. A civil servant on VRS enjoys remunerayion in lakhs of rupees. On esm opting pre-mature retirement he was paid for only he served. No more. Govt shall minimize the strenhth of forces by modifying it alone. Tjere should be no egotistic approch anymore in this matter.

  8. says: Wg Cdr VK Gupta

    Mr. Shukla,

    You seem to be unnaturally presumptous about NFU. In that you say ..give it to faujis in some restricted form … as a lollypop ? … Where in this planet ( or any other in the Galaxy ) … one gets paid for duties / responsibilities not exercised ..or answerable for.

    IAS has outlived its utility. It ( ICS ) was a tool of a colonial power to advance their objectives. Independent & Republic India does not need personnel who guide her destinies by merely passing English and General knowledge exams. In 21st Century we need fully qualified administrators ( Graduates or PGs in specific fields ) to be deployed in specific Ministries in their area of specialisations.

    A Foreman cannot be employed on the Shop Floor of a PSU without MINIMUM BASIC QUALIFICATIONS

    Earthquake… call the Army ….. Riots… Call the Army ….. Floods… Call the Army… Tsunami… Call the Army. A child falls in a borewell … call the Army. Where the F..K is CIVIL ADMINISTRATION ??????????????? There is a TOTAL CIVIL ADMINISTRATION FAILURE IN THIS COUNTRY. We need to abolish our 9 -5 ” SITTING IN OFFICE…. WRITING NOTES ON FILE…. CLAPPING YOUR HANDS OFF…. MY JOB DONE … NOW GIVE ME NFU ATITUDE ADMINISTRATIVE EMERGENCY needs to be declared in this country. Wherein any mishap or misgovernance in any field… The Secretary, Addl Secy, JS are dismissed without Terminal Benefits. Only then … will Babus go out in the field and ensure that every order has been implemented. This is what a Military Officer does… when an order is issued.They ENSURE IMPLEMENTATION.

    Get off your High Horse Mr. Shukla.

    An IAS has surely read history. Human patience has a limitation. Remember French Revolution…. Bastille… Guillotine… May not happen to you… Take care of your descendants. That would be wise !

  9. says: saurabh

    The whole problem lies in a bunch of buffoons called the IAS, who by virtue of their rule making powers made rules only to benefit themselves.
    Latest is, full reimbursement of medical treatment taken abroad. (only for the IAS)

    The shocking part is, it is this cornering of all the best resources for one sect of people that resulted in a distorted version of casteism in India. And now these buffoons are repeating it via keeping all the monies only for themselves.

    Who will challenge them ? Judges ? give them OROP. Top Military leadership ? give them OROP. MPs ? give them OROP.

    And then when others say what’s the logic ? pat comes the reply (via people like this author) “Well, you know what ?” “OROP was wrong in the first place itself. No one should have got it ”

    Is the bureaucracy that dumb to realize that this will come back at them ?

    The way I see it, is not the financials. but the will. I am a son of a soldier and I have suffered first hand due to poor financials that my father had. He was physically not present. There was hardly any money and life was unnecessarily harsh as compared with my civilian friends and relatives.

    For this reason, inspite of loving the Armed forces life, an entire generation of youth did not join the Armed forces. Heck, it was not even an option.

    So, Mr. Author, stop blaming the politicians. that they are incompetent is well known. What have the civil servants being doing except cornering the biggest piece of pie for themselves ?

    Say the real reason: you want the military to be the second class citizen to the bureaucracy. Say that you want the military to be at the beck and call of the civilian rulers.

    Call a spade a spade.

    The problem is, no other country where the military reports to the Civil rule, the soldiers are treated this badly.

    You are a bunch of M$^%#$% F#$#&* who will leave no stone unturned to send India back to Stone age.

  10. says: Vijay

    Dear Fellow writers,
    I request to maintain decorum and not mix up personal biases against any service with the OROP issue.
    Let’s talk now on a even ground now. Armed Forces Personnel are Government employees- A FACT.
    All govt employees serve upto 60 years- A FACT. 90% ARMED FORCES PERSONNEL RETIRE MUCH EARLIER – varying from 35-50 years—A FACT. When the social responsibilities are at their peak, armed forces personnel retire. TELL ME WHY SHOULD THEY RETIRE AT 35-50 YEARS? They are in Govt service. They retire young to keep the Armed Forces young. Just go to any Govt office and see the physical condition of employees but they are still earning and will get contributory pension.
    Just pay all armed forces personnel at today’s rate for all the years denied to them with all criteria being same as their counterparts in civil(Politicians,IAS, IFS, IPS and such like all included). A Jawan who retired at 35 should be paid the salary at the rate of today for 25 years unserved period(denied to him). Once this is done to all armed forces personnel then stop pensions for any govt employee. Now comes the special conditions and its impact suffered by the armed forces personnel. Have a commission headed by RM with three members from veterans(one each from offrs, jcos, Other ranks), one serving member and one govt representative to put a notional value to the special conditions and physical and mental sufferings, also take into account impact on the wife and lack of dual parentage to the children and emotional trauma on the parents. Please do consider frequent movements and the list goes on to counter OROB(shame on the person for evolving this terminology).
    I am sure by now some sense is creeping into the nasty heads of those opposing OROP.
    The greatest sacrifice is when done for the nation, but why should the widow and children of martyrs suffer–Hence OROP.
    Why Armed forces personnel should not get same promotion avenues as others in Govt Service and why they should be denied NFU?
    Why should the veterans of Armed forces live in penury like state in old age because they retired in 1965/1970/1980 when pensions were very low compared to today?
    Today some cabinet minister(s) is talking of poor man’s money, OMG, look who are talking and preaching…look at the perks enjoyed by you sir and your service conditions and you just pass the salary bill within minutes and need 43 years for OROP as if OROP is to be paid out of poor man’s pocket and MPs and MLAs pension and expenses are paid by aliens.
    These very politicians have destroyed the sacredness of the temple of democracy and are out to destroy another strong pillar of democracy called Armed Forces.
    Why should Armed Forces come to the aid of civil authorities at the drop of a hat, who is evaluating their competence?
    I have just written 30% of what can be written on this issue. Hope better sense prevails where it matters to resolve this issue as every delay is going to be dangerous on the morale of the armed forces and its relations with civilians counterparts, bureaucracy and political leadership.
    Ridiculing or using force will be the last nail….God knows whose coffin??

  11. says: AM Manohar

    Military salutes and guards are good for ego but politicians need funds to fight elections, therefore they essentially need bureaucrats and listen to them respectfully. The MoD is the cash cow for such funds and the bureaucrats in the ministry make way for efficient milking while the servicemen stand as onlookers. Soon after Independence, exploiting the inexperience and gullibility of the then military leadership, bureaucracy took two major steps – one, put the services out of the governance regime by making Service Headquarters as departments of the Government, and secondly, perpetuated the notion that civilian control of the military is synonymous with control through the bureaucracy. Indian military has not been able to recover from this body blow to date, and worse, there has been a continuous flow of policy changes which have further reduced the status of the services. That is the reason services blame the bureaucracy for lowering their standing in public eyes. To assert their power these bureaucrats reject service matters of national importance and put the services down. This misplaced sense of importance is the biggest impediment in their relationship with the services. Through such petty acts, bureaucrats try to overcome their sense of inadequacy and ‘keep the military in its place’. Putting down the services is common. Every proposal to curtail powers of the military is instantly approved. In effect the bureaucrats are least interested in the well being of the soldiers and their morale and are not aware that by slighting the military it is demoralising soldiers, thereby gladdening the hearts of India’s enemies. It is another fact that the bureaucrats for not empathise with servicemen due to their ignorance of trials and tribulations of military life, as they hardly have any close relative or progeny in the services. Another fact to a large extent is that the military commanders are responsible for accepting such domination all these year mutely. Again, their conduct has certainly raised questions regarding the quality of leadership that the military is throwing up. It is a cause for concern. Additionally, the political leadership and the bureaucracy must realise the irretrievable damage they are doing to the morale and the fighting potential of the military. India survives today because, as General Sir John Hackett said, “A soldier places his body between those of the citizens of his country and those who are attempting to destroy them.” The media must also realise that most soldiers are posted at remote border posts or are battling insurgency against heavy odds and at great personal risk. Now for the first time in the free and independent India, a soldier is driven to a position to demand his IJJAT, pay and perks as compared to the bureaucrats in the ministry of defence who dealt themselves subtly higher status even though they are unaccountable to the security of the nation. The higher command must show their solidarity with the troops they command at this juncture for, they are the teeth that will bite while in the battle and not their civilian bosses and politicians. Denigrating and lowering the image of the military can prove extremely dear to the country in the long run.

  12. says: Wg Cdr Ajay kumar

    I am little confused from where to start with. Every one feels army men are substandard people and second class citizen. Many have dubbed it as unskilled labour so why bother give bred to survive like they feed their dogs. Ungrateful people of ungrateful nation. We are sinking into sand dunes without any attempt to rescue work. Only time will tell how much we have damaged nation’s psych to pay heavely in future times. You dishonor your sons and see the suffering in full.

  13. says: Get your facts right, Avay!

    The OROP Issue…. a bit of stats…
    Union budget for pensions: Rs 88,000 Crores
    It includes: (33,500 crores for All India Services + Rs 33,000 crores for Armed Forces + Rs 21,500 crores for Defence Civilians).
    Rs 33,500 crores for All India services like IAS, IPS, IRS, IFoS, Indian Service of Engineers (PWD etc), Indian Medical and health Servicesand etc; Total No. of Pensioners 295,356; It amounts to an average of Rs 93,930 per pensioner per month.
    Rs 33,000 crores for Armed Forces Pensioners (including widows). Total Pensioners Approx 25 lakh; Amounts to an average of Rs 15050 per pensioner per month.
    Rs 21,500 crores for Defence Civilian Pensioners; Total Pensioners 5.32 lakh; Amounts to an average of Rs 33,680 per pensioner per month.
    Maximum opposition for OROP is from the bureaucrats who get an average of Rs 93,930 per pensioner per month as pension and a vast majority of them are also already entitled to OROP.
    That is the shame.

  14. says: Avay Shukla

    My figures are okay, sir, but your’s are misleading ! The average defence pension is bound to be lower because 90% of its strength consists of jawans who are in a much lower pay scale. Your credibility would have been higher if you had given the average pension of Commissioned officers in the armed forces as a basis for comparison.

  15. says: uppender

    It is surprising that we are blaming modi or the IAS lobby the fault lies within our selves. What have our service chiefs done till today.Nothing. the present lot are the worst,they remind of 3 monkeys.When the RM made the announcement on Premautre they sat like dumb dodos and today the chief has the guts to say accept it with what face?.
    The fact remain the IAS lobby has run the services and will do in the future alsoi poor chap out of a CM post had no idea of OROP and blurted out without thinking [he is still at that level as seen in bihar] He forgot it was an anti Congress vote which won him an election.

    His loss in Delhi and now Bihar shows him his limitations.

    Still let us think with a cool head some thing is better than nothing and just take it.

    Let us not get bogged down by taking it to courts as some hot heads are planning .we will than be playing into the IAS lobby.

  16. says: MANAN BHATT

    In last few years since Timescale promotion policy is in effect. A breed of useless unprofessional morons have been promoted. Worthless posts are created to accommodate them. It is mockery of natural justice. At one place u don’t promote JAWANS equate them to a jhaduwala of municipality. On the other hand free hand is being give to OFFICER promotion. And also declare deficit of officers!!!!
    NFU and TIMESCALE are ways to kill competence of individuals. That makes jack a dull boy. Now a days top leadership of ARMED FORCES is acting like vampires to drain the life out of Indian youth.

    Healthy competition is must for any institution to succeed, thrive be it a country or ARMED FORCES. But when in the name of selection. You have this so called SSB that is actually Service Rejection Board. Your SSB doesn’t want sons of soil to be officers. SSB in principal is against Indianness and INDIAN in general. They want to recruit people who are either dumb or can be converted into a dumber fellow later in ACADEMIES. The Desi robust fellow INDIAN is simply not welcome and faces outright Rejection. The cult of defence ACADEMIES has succeeded in mass conversation of fellow INDIAN and turned them into COLONIAL COUSINS.
    कहाँ है मेरे हम वतन। कहाँ है मेरे भाई। फ़ौजो के गलियारों में धंधा चल रहाहै मेरे हिंदुस्तानी भाई को अँगरेज़ बनाने का। मेरे दुश्मन मेरे भाई मेरे हम साये। मेरा भी वतन तेरा भी वतन।

    In India we have blood sucker vampires everywhere. They can drain blood from our veins in the name of patriotism, nationalism. Now a days its true with most of the officers and jawans joining in Defence. Once u are in there is no competition. बने रहो पगला। काम करेगा अगला। देदो NFU timescale प्रोमोशन्स सारे फुद्दू कर्नल ज़रूर बनेंगे। अब तो उपरवाला बचाये। socialism is good in principle but has never been successfully implemented. Likewise outright capitalism is also draining mother earth of all its resources. We must find a middle path. Sustainable development, and sustainable living were principles developed by one Mr Gandhi. He tried to give answers to these Burning issues through his books. I have found solace in some of his thoughts.

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