MYSORE: Veterans‘ peaceful and dignified agitation including relay fast for OROP at Jantar Mantar has crossed the 2-month mark. The ill-conceived police action against demonstrating Veterans on August 14 raised nation-wide condemnation and media attention, and caused two Veterans to start an indefinite fast. Veterans hold PM Narendra Modi along with his cabinet of Defence, Home and Finance ministers accountable, while on the opposite side, some persons are stating obstacles to OROP.
One such is Mr.Avay Shukla, in his article titled “The Bitter Truth About OROP”, which raises the following main points, namely, the premise of OROP is “inherently flawed”, OROP “cannot be limited to the armed forces only”, and OROP is “neither fair nor possible”.
Credibility and justice of OROP
In raising the first point, he argues that Generals and specified Lt Gen appointments (and their equivalent ranks in the navy and air force) were, over the years, co-opted by bureaucrats’ “sleight of hand” into accepting the so-called Apex Scale, thus treating OROP – a decades-old demand – for all other faujis casually and without serious opposition or backing down when confronted, thus enabling bureaucrats in MoD to keep denying OROP by different strategems like “granting rank pay” but deducting it from basic salary which dictates pension fixation, and ensuring that successive Central Pay Commissions (CPCs) ensured civilians’ salary advantage.
It is true that Generals and specified Lt Gen appointments (and their equivalent ranks in the navy and air force) are in the Apex Scale, and their pensions are automatically adjusted upwards as every Pay Commission makes provisions for Apex Scales to keep bureaucrats comfortable. It is also true that these retired gentlemen, to their discredit (with one or two notable exceptions), have not backed OROP for the rest of the armed forces until very recently. The Defence top brass over the years are certainly to blame for succumbing to the blandishments of scheming “babus”, and not pursuing OROP to make it available to the rest of the Fauj. But in no manner does that diminish the credibility or the justice of Veterans’ OROP demand, as explained below.
Serving the nation
Mr.Avay Shukla writes: “Extending OROP to just the defence forces is neither fair, nor possible. It is not fair because, emotive claims apart, they are not the only ones serving the nation – the primary school teacher in a Naxal village in Dantewada is also doing so, the coal miner spending twelve hours every day in the pitch darkness of a flooded mine in Jharia is also doing so, the fireman rushing into a burning building in a Mumbai slum is also doing so.”
Regarding fairness, Shukla is quite right in saying that teachers, coal miners, firemen etc., all serve the nation. However, Veterans have never claimed that they are the “only ones serving the nation”, and Shukla saying so is unwarranted. However, what Veterans have been saying is that (1) the army (here this means all three Services) Jawan serves until he is only 35-37 years of age, after which he is compulsorily retired, (2) he serves in areas distant from family and community, (3) he serves with hardship and risk under a necessarily rigid, even harsh, code of discipline and conduct of military law, (4) he is denied the freedom of expression and of association by law, and most importantly, (5) he cannot refuse to obey orders even if it means risk to his life or permanent disability, or regarding transfer, posting or deployment, or being refused leave. Thus the Jawan, who numerically comprises about 85% of the army, is especially disadvantaged vis a vis a teacher, coal miner, fireman, etc., all of whom undoubtedly have the disadvantages of their professions, but not this combination of disadvantages.
The advantages that a Jawan enjoys which a civilian does not, are: ration, military clothing, railway warrant for travel on leave, and canteen facility. And he gets these only for the 17 years of service, in postings which involve physical hardship and risk. He is also entitled to canteen facility after retirement, and the advantage is limited to exemption of excise duty on a limited range of consumer goods that he can afford on his meagre pension. However, civilians paid from defence estimates enjoy canteen facilities.
At this point, Shukla may do well to think why it is that the army is called out in aid of civil power (for which there is constitutional provision) for controlling riots, containing law & order situations, flood-cyclone-earthquake disaster relief, rail-air accident relief, rescuing little children fallen into borewells, etc., when there are so many central and state civil servants including the police, who all claim that they serve the nation every bit as much as the Jawan. Could it be because the Jawan is simply more reliable than his civilian government counterpart?
In this connection, a report titled “Democracy in India: A Citizens’ Perspective”, is revealing. It states: ”As in 2005, political parties were the least trusted political institutions, and the police the least trusted unelected institution. Trust in Parliament, while low, rose between 2005 and 2013, while the Army continued to be the most trusted institution. The civil service was perceived as the most corrupt, more so than local, State and Central governments“. [Ref.1]. Thus, citizens’ opinion in relative terms, of the trustworthiness of the institutions of government, specifically, the political parties, the police, the army (meaning, of course, the Armed Forces) and the civil service (bureaucracy), is unequivocal. Shukla, himself a retired Apex Scale bureaucrat, would fully appreciate its import.
Salary and pension – soldier and civilian
Compare the Jawan with a central government employee. Consider Jawan-A who joined military service in 1970 when he was aged 18-years. He retired in 1987 on attaining age of 35-years. A Group-D central government employee, Shri-C, also joined government service in 1970 at age 21-years, but while Jawan-A was compulsorily retired in 1987, Shri-C continued in service and retired in 2009 at age 60-years. Thus Shri-C was able to receive salary between 1987 and 2009, upgraded by CPCs in the intervening years, while Jawan-A, compulsorily retired in 1987, continued with a basic pension fixed in 1987, which was not upgraded by subsequent CPCs. It is extremely likely that Shri-C would have been promoted to a higher grade and drawn higher salary at retirement and consequently higher basic pension.
If Jawan-A had not been compulsorily retired when he was aged 35-years, he would have continued serving and drawn salary until he was aged 60-years. (Incidentally, the CRPF policeman continues to serve until age 57-years, and the Home Ministry is reported to be contemplating enhancing it to age 60-years to provide additional benefit of 3-years salary and consequent pension). Thus Jawan-A is disadvantaged relative to Shri-C.
Shukla would probably argue that Jawan-A and Shri-C both joined their respective services voluntarily. While that is quite true, it obfuscates the disparity in the conditions of military service of Jawan-A and civilian service of Shri-C, and especially the effects of failure of either on national security. It is the Jawans’ disadvantage which justifies linking Jawans’ past pensions with present pensions/salaries. Shukla, with blithe ignorance of facts, fails to recognize this and alleges that OROP is “inherently flawed”.
Salary and pension – soldier and soldier
However, the idea of OROP is primarily connected with pension disparity within the Fauj. Noting that more than 85% of all military pensioners are Jawans, let us compare one Jawan with another who has the same length of military service but joined service later. Jawan-A who joined military service at age 18-years in, say, 1970, would retire at age 35-years in 1987, and his basic pension would be fixed according to the CPC in vogue in 1987.
Now consider Jawan-B who joined military service at age 18-years in 1990 and retired in 2007 after 17 years service at age 35-years. His basic pension would be fixed according to 6CPC, and his basic pension would be substantially higher than Jawan-A’s. Thus Jawan-A is disadvantaged with respect to Jawan-B, even though he had the same length of military service. This disparity is huge and unfair, and is the primary reason for OROP, which 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”.
This disadvantage does not occur among civilians because they all serve upto age 60-years and basic pension is fixed at retirement, and therefore OROP is a concept limited to the Armed Forces.
The police & the military
The comparison drawn by Shukla between the police and the military in regard to OROP needs to be addressed in some detail. Here the comparison is between the soldier and the policeman in central government service. At the outset, it is necessary to note that the life of a policeman is undoubtedly tough, even while the life of the soldier is additionally risky and subject to stringent legal action in case of non-performance of assigned duties.
The State Police are directly responsible to their respective State administrations for maintenance of law & order, regulating traffic, etc., and protection to state civil authority in implementation of state’s policies and programs. Thus State Police under the control of the state’s Home Ministry, are the first level of protection for the law-abiding citizen. When situations and security issues exceed the capability or capacity of State Police, the state calls for central police, known as Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), which come under the union Home Ministry.
The military (army, navy and air force) or Armed Forces or Defence Forces are meant to “defend the sovereignty and integrity of the nation” against external threat as their primary role. They are called in by state governments “in aid of civil power” in their secondary role, when the state government administration along with its integral police and the CAPFs have failed in their own primary role to cope with law and order situations, and the state government has officially declared an area within the state as “disturbed”. In addition, the military is called for relief operations for flood, cyclone, drought, earthquake, air or rail accident, and children fallen into borewells. This is because the state government is unable, incapable or incompetent to handle situations calling for discipline, method, planning, courage and ability to bear hardship and risk. When the Armed Forces engage in their secondary role, there can be no slackening of their primary role of border defence against external threat. Thus, the Armed Forces are quite literally the “last bastion”, the ultimate bulwark, the instrument of last resort, for the civilian administration at state or centre.
When the Armed Forces fail due to political-cum-military failure, as in 1962 against Chinese aggression, national sovereignty and stature receive a body blow, and there is deep public concern and anguish. But when CAPFs fail or are inadequate, as they unfortunately often are, the Armed Forces are called in to retrieve the situation.
Apples and oranges
It is now well known that heads of the CAPFs had represented to the union Ministry of Home Affairs that their rank and file would be demoralized if OROP was sanctioned for the Defence Forces. They have represented that their troops face similar dangers as the Defence Forces and undergo similar conditions. In other words, they were equating the CAPFs with the Defence Forces.
But in fact, there is no comparison between these two forces because their roles, service conditions, deployment and command structure are different. It must be emphasized that the need for CAPFs is inescapable just as the nation cannot do without the Defence Forces. Also, this is not to say that CAPFs have no physical hardship or risk, but to emphasize their difference, particularly early retirement ages of Jawans, NCOs, JCOs and officers. (The CAPF policeman being referred to as “jawan” is a gross misnomer, because he serves until age 57-years, long after he has lost his “jawani”, while the soldier retires as a jawan at age 35-37 years). Thus, comparing Armed Forces with CAPFs is like comparing apples with oranges – both are forces which are armed, both are essential, but they are different.
Briefly, delay in government’s implementation of OROP for military Veterans cannot be justified because of a similar demand from CAPFs or any other quarter. The legitimacy of OROP for Veterans cannot be diminished by spurious “me-too” claims for OROP.
OROP is possible
Shukla writes: “Extending OROP to just the defence forces is neither fair, nor possible….“ The “fairness” issue of OROP is dealt with in foregoing paragraphs. Inasmuch as the “possible” issue of OROP, there is no shortage of finance to implement OROP for military Veterans. Considering the huge waiver of NPAs of big-business, “revenue foregone” in every budget, tax concessions to SEZs, self-granted salary hikes to parliamentarians and state legislators, etc., the plea of shortage of funds making OROP not possible, is nothing short of laughable.
However, what is certainly in shortage is justice to Veterans by non-implementation of OROP, when the Koshiyari Committee appointed by Parliament has agreed to the validity of OROP, the Supreme Court has agreed to its justice, and successive governments have agreed to its provision. That is, the legislative, the judiciary and the executive – the three pillars of our Constitution – have agreed to the Veterans’ OROP demand.
With ready access to social media, the OROP issue is being closely followed by serving soldiers all over the country. Continued denial of its implementation is affecting the morale of serving soldiers, since they will be Veterans sooner or later. The PM’s inaction and indecisiveness on OROP bodes ill for the security of the nation, even while Pakistan and China observe the deteriorating situation with glee, and “The Bitter Truth About OROP” is being discussed in “Pakistan Defence”http://defence.pk/threads/the-bitter-truth-about-orop.392918/ . PM Modi’s much-vaunted political savvy is in question.