The Fuss About One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP)
Armed Forces (army, navy, airforce) Veterans are chary of going public on defence matters particularly on issues of their own justifys and entitlements. This is because of years of service in a strict disciplinary environment under the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts of Parliament, which expressly deny them the fundamental justifys of freedom of speech & expression. Thus there was a time when Veterans believed in staying out of the news. But times have changed. Politicians and bureaucrats have tested the Veterans’ patience.
The demand for One-Rank-One-Pension (OROP) dates back to the 1980s. Nothing much happened until the Congress promised OROP in its poll manifesto in 2004, but the UPA government rejected the OROP demand in December 2008, resulting in Veterans returning over 22,000 gallantry, war and service medals to the President of India along with symbolically signing a letter with their own blood in 2009. Under the Indian Ex-Servicemen’s Movement (IESM) banner, Veterans have been taking delegations to the Ministry of Defence, writing letters to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister, and holding peaceful and dignified rallies and public demonstrations.
With continuing pressure from MP Shri Rajeev Chandrashekhar and IESM, the the Parliament Standing Committee on Defence studied and accepted the concept and definition of OROP in 2013. OROP was featured in the UPA government’s budget in February 2014 and was reflected in an executive order to that effect in the same month. After the BJP-NDA government came to power, granting OROP was mentioned in the budget speech in July 2014, and the MoS for Defence confirmed it in the Rajya Sabha in December 2014.
During the campaign for the 2014 general elections, BJP PM candidate, Shri Narendra Modi, made a promise at a Veterans’ Rally in Rewari, Haryana that, if elected to office, he would ensure OROP. In March 2015, during PM Modi’s much-hyped visit to the troops on Siachen glacier, he volunteered the statement that the OROP demand would be fulfilled. However, even after two successive governments have agreed to OROP, and the PM’s promises on its implementation, Veterans see OROP as a distant and receding light at the end of a tunnel.
What is the fuss about OROP?
But first, what is OROP? OROP simply means “uniform pension for military personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement, and any future enhancement in the rates of pension be automatically passed on to past pensioners”.
The reason for demanding OROP is that Veterans who have retired earlier receive much less pension than those who retired more recently. It can be argued that this also happens in other government jobs, so why are Veterans making such a fuss? To answer this perfectly valid question one needs to know some little-known facts concerning the military, at least insofar as service, retirement and pension are concerned.
One, Armed Forces (AF) personnel are compulsorily retired at a very early age, and retirement age depends upon their rank. Early retirement is necessary to “keep the army young” because older men cannot fight battles which make huge demands on stamina and strength. Soldiers (Sepoys, or in general, Jawans) who have not been promoted to NCO or JCO rank retire compulsorily after just 15 to 17 years of service, when their age is 35 to 37 years. Sepoys who are promoted as NCOs or JCOs retire at age 45 to 47 years. Officers compulsory retirement age is connected with rank as follows – Major-50, Lt Col-52, Col-54, Brig-56, Maj Gen-58, Lt Gen-60, General-62, noting that promotions depend both on performance and severely limited vacancies due to the rigid pyramidal rank structure. That is why, of all AF retirees, soldiers constitute about 90%.
Two, a soldier who was retired, say, in 1986 would receive pension on the basis of his salary according to the Fourth Pay Commission, while the pension of a soldier who was retired after the Sixth Pay Commission (20 years later) would be considerably higher because successive Pay Commissions fix salaries according to the rising cost indices. Thus, a Havildar (NCO) who retired earlier with over 20 years of service may receive less pension than a soldier who retired later with only 15 years of service. As an example for the officer cadre, the pension of a post-2012 retiree Colonel was Rs.35,841, whereas a pre-2006 retiree Major General’s pension was Rs.26,700. These disparities are grossly unfair because the soldier is retired compulsorily at an age depending upon his rank, and his pension is fixed upon the pay according to the CPC in force at retirement.