Newly appointed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has constituted a Committee headed by Comptroller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) to examine the equalization of pensions of defence personnel with effect from 01 Jul 2019 under One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme, giving one month to the Committee to forward its recommendations.
Above apparently is following a recent clarification sought by CGDA from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) “whether any logic exists to initiate the process of OROP revision (equalization) once the pension of past and current pensioners was initiated on January 1, 2016”. Issue to note is that though executed after the 7th Central Pay Commission, OROP for soldiers was implemented with effect from July 1, 2014, and a gazette notification said pension would be equalized after five years; which implied with effect from July 1, 2019. Equalization implies soldiers who retire in same rank and with same length of service will be on a par in terms of pension.
The last minute CGDA query when pensions are to be equalized with effect from July 1, 2019, and constituting another Committee by the Defence Minister (on behest of MoD) raises the questions: one, did MoD ask CGDA to begin the process of equalization of pensions; two, if yes, who is CGDA to question it, and; three, if not, who prompted the CGDA to seek such clarification now? Clearly, this is deliberate mischief between MoD’s Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) and the CGDA taking advantage of a new defence minister who would be unaware of the background of OROP.
Though the government has been reiterating that OROP has been granted, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is perhaps unaware it was not the case, and instead a one-time raise in pension was given, as explained in these columns (OROP – is it really granted?: https://hillpost.in/2015/09/orop-is-it-really-granted/104218/), which also explained the politico-bureaucratic obduracy in giving military pensioners their due. Defence-cum-Finance Minister Arun Jaitley found it impossible to actualize OROP annually (as required) despite his educational qualifications and available technology, with banks calculating everything on daily basis including flexi deposits.
It is well known that while Manohar Parrikar, when Defence Minister wanted to award ‘full’ OROP, Jaitley made it a prestige issue to deny it, the talk of the town being he could never recover from losing his deposits when defeated in elections at Amritsar to an Army veteran during 2014. That notwithstanding, if government was convinced that OROP was fully implemented, where was the need to appoint the one-man Reddy Commission on OROP to look into the anomalies. L Narasimha Reddy was retired Chief Justice of Patna High Court, heading the one-man committee, submitted his report to the government on October 26, 2016. His recommendations obviously were not to the liking of the bureaucracy, due to which it was put in the freezer.
20 months after Reddy Commission submitted its report, the then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated in July 2018, ‘We are examining the report of retired chief justice of Patna High Court, L Narasimha Reddy”. Parliament was also informed that another committee has been appointed to examine recommendations of the Reddy Commission report (sic). On January 3, 2019, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Centre on a public interest litigation alleging inordinate delay in removal of anomalies in the “initial implementation” of OROP, as ordered by the MoD in November 2015. Next in run up to the recent general elections, Sitharaman stated publicly on March 4, 2019, that the Centre would “shortly” review the scheme to review anomalies of OROP.
The new Committee appointed by the Defence Minister is akin to going around the mulberry tree with no full-stops in sight. Here a few additional issues are relevant, which perhaps are not known to public at large. The protests against non-implementation of OROP are attributed to officers through vested news, which it is not. Officers are only 1% of retirees; non-equalization of OROP hurts soldiers most. There is plenty discussion about little funds left for military modernization on account of pay, allowances and pensions but following needs to be considered in this context:
- The past five annual defence budgets have been ‘negative’ in actual terms and lowest since 1962.
- While announcing defence budgets, it is clarified that separate provision is made for pensions, which is sensible because 60,000 personnel retire annually from the Army alone. So why the hue and cry.
- Despite voids of a National Security Strategy and a Strategic Defence Review (SDR), the Army has been instructed to cut down 1,00,000-1,50,000 manpower. But there are no cuts in the 6.5 lakh civilian-defence employees who at an average cost five times more than their uniformed counterparts.
- Dispassionate analyses ‘overall defence expenditure’ in the country would indicate that almost 70% DRDO-OFB-DPSUs, with returns that are hardly commensurate. Enormous funds can be saved there.
- Compared to the cries to reduce the military strength without a SDR and without reducing CI commitments, the central armed police forces are expanding rapidly, with enormous funds at disposal of Ministry of Home Affairs.
NDA III is to announce its first budget on July 6. Logically, annual defence allocation of 2.5 to 3% of GDP for next five years is needed since without a strong military no country can even push its national interests at the bargaining table. The fact that India spent $8.6 billion on the recent general elections (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/08/asia/india-election-spending-intl/index.html), double than 2014 Indian elections and $2.1 billion more that 2016 US presidential elections, indicates there is no dearth of money in our country. A government that seeks votes from martyrdom of soldier but denies then their dues can only be described as pathetic. Defence Minster Rajnath Singh needs to put an end to the unending subterfuge on OROP, and take a decision once for all.