Sunday, 20 November 2016

OROP, the still pending struggle

OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancements be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.

You have never lived until you have almost died, and for those who choose to fight, life has a special flavor, the protected will never know! — said Capt R Subramanium Kirti Chakra once. Between Morocco and Malaysia, India is among the very few genuine democracies where troops remain in barracks and willingly follow what their civilian government dictates. China and Pakistan, our immediate neighbours, have strong military participation in government. In ancient times, if a soldier had to beg for his rights, it was considered that the King and the state had failed the promise to the nation’s guardians who otherwise promised to remain loyal and apolitical.

The recent Uri attacks and the surgical strikes have again hit India’s conscience about the soldiers sacrifice. It is most unfortunate that a soldier reportedly committed suicide because of incorrect payment related to One Rank One Pension (OROP). OROP implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancements be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. After nearly 30 years of struggle by ex-servicemen, the government of India issued OROP implementation orders on 07 November 2015.

The ex-servicemen found the OROP announcement short of the definition, and seeing the resentment, a one-man judicial committee under the Chairmanship of Justice L Narasimha Reddy, retired Chief Justice of the Patna High Court was set up. After many hearings and interactions, the committee submitted its report on 26 October 2016.

The four main issues pending for resolution are:
1) Base fixation of pension as of calendar year of 2013 instead of FY of 2014, else it would result in loss of one increment.
2) Fixation of pension at the highest pension of each rank in the year and not at the average figure between highest and lowest.
3) Payment should be fixed from April- July 2014 as per budget norms of the government. Changing the date would result in loss of three months emoluments for OROP. Alternatively the base pension should also as applicable in July 2014.
4) Pension equalisation should be every year instead of five years. All the political parties support the OROP but approvals have been lingering simply because of bureaucratic delays and machinations.

Armed Forces have also been very unhappy with the 7th Pay commission recommendations including the proposed change in norms for disability pension and the relative status. Non Functional Upgrade (NFU) has been implemented for all civil services since 2008, but the same has been denied to the Armed Forces. Bureaucracy has often tried to incorrectly interpret Pay Commissions and court orders to reduce benefits to the Armed Forces and to lower their relative status. Servicemen had to fight and win the ‘Rank pay’ case in the Apex court. It is unfortunate that large number of ex-servicemen and widows have to fight in courts for rightful pension. The public opinion and the media are strongly for the Armed Forces.

For the first time, ex-servicemen had to resort to hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, and similar agitations in other cities. Many ex-servicemen returned their gallantry medals in protest, and others are openly venting strong views on Television channels and on social media. This is impacting the morale of a much disciplined force which is the port of last call for national security and disaster management. PM Modi has already cleared OROP to 85 per cent satisfaction. Remaining incremental costs are minimal. India awaits a political will to resolve the remaining.

The author is a retired Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force and is a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal.

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