Efforts of the finance ministry to redefine the parameters of OROP should be nipped in the bud.
The Third Pay Commission set off the demand for One Rank, One Pension (OROP) in the armed forces. Till 1973, pensions in the armed forces were fixed at 70 per cent of the average of the last 12 months of pay drawn. The Third Pay Commission reduced it to 50 per cent. And, it hiked the pension of civilian employees from 33 per cent to 50 per cent.
To earn full pension, an employee had to serve a minimum of 33 years. While soldiers are forcibly retired to keep the forces young, Central government employees retire at 60. So, soldiers could not even earn full pension, despite being given some weightage. As all armed forces personnel are governed by the Army Act, their terms and conditions of service are no match to those serving in civilian or police organisations.
As armed forces personnel retire young, they lose out on both pay and pensions. Often, they lose out on the benefits of two or three pay commissions. So, the Third Pay Commission’s arbitrary decision to cut pension caused consternation among the personnel.
The Fifth and Sixth Pay Commi-ssions considered the issue of lateral absorption of early retirees of the armed forces into the para military and central police organisations (CPO). The Sixth Pay Commission concluded that lateral absorption of nearly all defence forces personnel to CPOs and various cadres of defence civilians was possible. The Sixth Pay Commission thus recommended that in future, posts in the CPOs/defence civilian organisations should be filled by lateral transfer of armed forces personnel.
However, these very practical recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission were ignored by the government, because of opposition from other quarters. Then, a ten-member Parliamentary panel chaired by Bhagat Singh Koshyari studied the OROP issue and submitted its report on December 19, 2011. The Koshyari Committee recommended that the government implement OROP across the board at the earliest. It also recommended the formation of a separate pay commission to oversee pay, allowances, pensions and family pension of defence personnel.
The committee blamed bureaucratic resistance and apathy for the failure to implement OROP. And, it also defined the concept of OROP: “OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank, with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rate of pension to be automatically passed onto past pensioners.” In the armed forces, equality in service has two components—rank and length of service. The committee factored both components while defining OROP.
The recommendations of the Koshyari Committee found wide acceptance amongst the members of the armed forces. So, attempts to disregard or modify the recommendations will be seen as a brazen effort to undermine legitimate demands.
So, the current efforts of the finance ministry to shift goalposts and redefine the parameters of OROP should be nipped in the bud. Once the definition of OROP is set, remaining issues like the date from which OROP is to be implemented and periodicity of increments will fall in place easily. It also needs to be remembered that a favourable decision on the issue will restore the morale of our armed forces personnel. They are watching whether the promises of the prime minister will be implemented in full or half-heartedly!
The author was military secretary, Indian Army.