Thursday, 4 August 2016

Ex-servicemen should ask the government to produce all records concerning one rank one pay

 (This and a few other articles on the subject were written more than a year ago. A veteran who had consumed poison yesterday died in hospital this morning. Obviously, the issue has not yet been resolved to the satisfaction of those who risk their life to protect us from enemies. It belies all claims to make India strong. There is urgent need to analyse the causes of dissatisfaction and solve the remaining problems without delay. Financial constraint cannot be an excuse. November 2, 2016)


An open letter to ex-servicemen

Dear soldiers,

You have ‘retired’ because of service conditions but once a soldier is always a soldier.
I am a retired civil servant. I am not a well-known person whose support to you will be a news item for the media. My voice carries no weight before the government. The purpose of my writing this open letter is to give certain suggestions which may help you in your struggle for which I have full sympathy.

It is really a misfortune of this country that its brave soldiers who faced bullets to defend the country from hostile neighbours and who rescued civilians during all national calamities have to agitate and even to go on hunger strike for a simple thing like ‘one rank, one pension’ (OROP). Yes, it is a very simple problem which can be solved within a couple of days but has been made to appear so complicated that in his address to the nation on August 15 Prime Minister Narendra Modi, well known for his administrative acumen and who has more than once announced his commitment to accept OROP, regretted that ‘..there is no resolution yet. Even I have not been able to solve it.’
I fully agree with 10 ex-chiefs of the armed forces who in a recent letter told the Prime Minister said that “The often quoted technical difficulties without ever being specified and discussed are thus bewildering. This is simple arithmetic based on the Standard Pension Tables of the government..”

Have you ever wondered why despite several recommendations in the past and despite announcement of date by which ‘one rank one pension’ (OROP) would be implemented, no concrete announcement has been made so far?  

To solve the problem, one has to first accept that it needs to be solved followed by a sincere effort to solve it. I regret to say that after going through the history of this problem, I have come to the conclusion that for a long time it was not accepted as a problem at all and when the government had to accept that it was a problem, the sincerity needed to solve it was missing.

In my two blogs “One rank, one pension - Part I” and “One rank, one pension - Part II”, posted on on August 17 and August 18, 2015, respectively, I have discussed how the government first created and sat over the problem and then made insincere efforts to solve it. Here I will summarise why I am saying so.

The problem was created by the 3rd Central Pay Commission (CPC) in 1973 which applied the same set of rules to the retirees of the armed forces which were applicable to the civilian retirees. For the reasons best known to her, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi promptly announced termination of OROP for the armed forces.  More than seven years thereafter the Estimates Committee (1980-81) realised that the disparity in pension between past and present pensioners of equal rank in the armed forces was unjustified and recommended its end. The government simply ignored the recommendation. The 4th CPC (June,1986) said what the government wanted to hear: ‘the amount of pension undergoes change as and when pay scales are revised and any attempt to equalise pension with reference to the revised pay scales of pay would amount to retrospective application of pay scales.’ The High-Level Empowered Committee (1991) headed by the then Defence Minister agreed with the stand taken by the 3rd  and 4th CPCs though it admitted that that the terms and conditions of  service of the armed forces personnel being distinct, they needed a special dispensation and recommended one-time relief which the government granted. The subsequent CPCs followed the same approach, giving some relief to reduce disparity among the previous retirees but refusing to recommend OROP irrespective of the date of retirement. 

The unanimous recommendations of an all-party Parliamentary Committee (Koshiyari Committee) to grant OROP in the defence forces across the board was also rejected. Surprisingly, the government even rejected the recommendations of the 5th and 6th CPCs as well as the Koshiyari Committee to provide for lateral transfer of servicemen, after a certain length of service, to paramilitary forces. It would have given suitable employment to you till the age of 60 and would have also reduced the outgo on pension.  

In all probability, the 7th CPC would follow the tradition of its predecessors and the gap between the pre-1.1.2006 and post-1.1.2016 (the likely date of implementation of the recommendations) would widen.

When the 2014 general election appeared on the horizon, the political leadership suddenly realised that you could be an important part of their vote bank.  

On February 27, 2014 the then Defence Minister announced the UPA government’s decision to implement the OROP by April 1, 2014. The deadline proved illusory. 

During the general election top leaders of Congress as well as BJP repeatedly announced commitment to implement OROP.  

On May 16, 2015,   Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said that “OROP proposal is in final stage. The defence ministry has approved it and the finance ministry will clear it in a few days, adding, “it is the first time that a clear proposal has been sent to finance ministry on OROP.” 14 days later, on May 30, 2015, while announcing his commitment to OROP, Prime Minister Modi said that ‘we are in consultation with defence personnel regarding the definition of OROP. Our government is here for five years, and we cannot do anything without consulting the people concerned. The dialogue is being actively pursued. .... It is just that there are too many definitions going around yet, and we are looking for one on which all stakeholders agree.’

The process of consultation has been going on. Perhaps, the file is still shuttling between the defence ministry and finance ministry.

I would not say that Prime Minister is not sincere but he seems to be helpless before those who are creating hurdles. To get an idea of what I am saying, one has to understand the way our government functions.

The most important centres of power and authority are ministers and IAS officers. The two work in close collaboration to help each other. The so-called financial burden has often been cited as a reason for denial of OROP to you but how many times have you heard of financial burden when it comes to giving higher salaries and perks to ministers, legislators, politicians and IAS officers? Have you heard of financial constraints when it comes to providing personal armed security guards to protect politicians and their families, even those facing criminal charges, round-the-clock? This problem is mentioned when it comes to the defence of the country. Our MPs are getting liberal pay, allowances and perks. Yet, they want much more for doing very little or even know watt. When in opposition, their main job is to disrupt the Parliament. It does not matter to them that the nation pays heavy price for their irresponsible behavior. 

The successive CPCs have been insensitive to your needs because the primary aim of every CPC has been to protect the supremacy of the IAS. If you do not believe, please go through the reports of the CPCs. The Member-Secretary, the most important member of every CPC, has always been an IAS officer. This is done to safeguard the interest of the IAS. Since the IAS cannot enjoy special privileges alone, these have been extended to the IPS and IFS (Indian Foreign Service) also. By framing favourable rules, misinterpreting rules and, if necessary, even by violating the rules, it has been ensured that barring exceptions all IAS, IPS and IFS officers retire at the level of Secretary to Government of India where there is OROP. Irrespective of the date of retirement, whether it was in 1985 or in 2015, every Secretary level retiree gets the same pension. We have never heard of any technical glitch in providing OROP to retired secretaries, irrespective of the date of retirement.
The fate of the lesser mortals is decided by desk officers in the central government. I describe them as the third centre of power (TCP). Whatever a desk officer writes regarding administrative issues involving common folks in the government, it is approved without any question up to the highest level. It is this TPC that is delaying the implementation of the government’s ‘in principle’ decision to grant OROP to ex-servicemen. The fellows in the Defence Ministry and Department of Expenditure must be scrutinising every word with a microscope and demonstrating their knowledge and authority.
Financial constraints have never prevented politicians from announcing sops such as free or highly subsidised electricity or waiver of interest to win elections. Governments have announced welfare schemes National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Jan Dhan Yojna without consulting the TPC. Every year the corporate sector is given concessions worth several billions of rupees. The government is spending thousands of crores of rupees on different types of subsidies.

 Financial constraint cannot be allowed to stand in the way of country’s defence. The financial burden on account of OROP is a very small part of the defence budget Rs. 2,46,727 crore for 2015-16. The country can certainly afford to pay OROP not only to ex-servicemen but also to ex-paramilitary servicemen. If there is political will it should not be difficult to mobilise resources for OROP.  
Dear soldiers, I would advise you to ask the government to produce all records pertaining to OROP since 1973. You can use your right under the Right to Information Act, 2005, to get photocopies of all the files. You should send your applications to the Ministries of Defence, Finance and Home and the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Secretariats for photocopies of the files.

Certainly it would cost money but you would be able to get complete picture of all the so-called hurdles. You would be able to know why the government did not accept recommendations of the Estimates Committee (1980-81) and the Parliamentary Committee (2011) why  previous and present finance ministers could not fulfill their promise and why Prime Minister is sounding helpless. You would also be able to remove all the so called glitches.

The TPC would definitely create all sorts of legal and procedural hurdles to deny information but you must insist in your own interest and have no doubt that you would succeed. It is your right.

Devendra Narain

August 20, 2015

Please also read "One rank one pension - Part I" and "One rank one pension - Part II". Articles contain important information which you must know.

Please also read "One rank one pension, Prime Minister should act like a leader".

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