It’s pathetically foolish for anyone to believe that that the NDA government will deceive the nation by not honouring its commitment to OROP. It’s natural for the Pappu of our politics who has recently taken to social media to rave and rant about our Prime Minister having the money for his visits abroad but not for pensions to our veteran soldiers.
The real pity is that ex-servicemen, including some very senior officers, have been publicly expressing their anger on the issue. And some media people have naturally joined the word war to create yet another new item song for “Breaking News.”
All of them, alas, are oblivious that what the Modi government is acing contempt of court proceedings as it inches to a happy solution for the long-term good of the servicemen and the country they serve so valiantly at all times, be it tremors of mother earth or the or the terrorists from across our borders.
All of them equally appear ignorant that on 18 February 2015, a Supreme Court bench of justices TS Thakur and AK Goel had directed the Centre to implement its six-year-old verdict of Justice Altamas Kabir 9 September 2008 to follow the one rank, one pension (OROP) principle for retired armed forces personnel.
Further it reminded the BJP government that it had promised to do so in the run-up to last year’s Lok Sabha elections, and warned the government of contempt if it failed to keep its word within three months.
On 10 July this year, the Supreme Court gave the Centre six more weeks to comply with its 2008 judgment. The next hearing is scheduled for 25 August 2015.
What has escaped notice of Pappu and the fasting-cum-shouting brigade is that on both the above warning days, the government’s Additional Solicitor General did not at all argue against the OROP but said that the government had in fact sanctioned the OROP, and was simply requesting more time to work out the details.
As for the likes of those who don’t go into details, let them remember that, according to thenewsminute.com portal, the OROP is expected to benefit 25 lakh veterans and widows of defence personnel as of today.
The huge figure is not surprising considering that Indian Army alone has people of 17 ranks—from Sepoy to Field Marshal. With the National Pay Commission reworking salaries and pay scales every five years, utmost care is needed to ensure that the situation does not arise where another Major General S.P.S.Vains first files a writ petition challenging the scheme where a Brigadier gets a higher pension than him, wins against the Union government appeal and secures a historic verdict from the apex court on 9 September 2008 which, seven years later, is being hung over a one-year old government which, irony of ironies, warmly endorses that verdict which proclaimed the supremacy of Article 14 (Right Equality of Law) of our people, including those from the armed forces.
An important aside here is that a political party’s election manifesto is being actually demanded to be implemented—by the apex court no less. This is a unique development in our democracy, and will make the political parties to be more cautious in making election promises in the future. For all you know, the Supreme Court may have opened the door for the Manifesto Bills I wrote about in my last commentary.
Another aside for the shouting brigade to note: does it really want the NDA government to announce its figures of OROP to the public first, even before it does so to the Supreme Court which is hearing the matter? How and why did those ranting people forget the oft-touted phrase sub judice?
Another overlooked possibility: instead of simply announcing the OROP figure, the government would be perfectly justified in putting forth a scheme that will reduce the number of pensioners over a period of time, thereby lessening the nation’s pension burden.
In fact, the 142nd Report on OROP prepared by two BJP MPs in December 2011 and available in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, advocated such a step strongly. It stated that the then existing ratio of pensioners to serving personnel in the military of 1.7 to 1 (as against 0.50 to 1 civil pensioners to civil work force) be decreased and the pension bill drastically reduced.
By the eminently sensible expedient of absorbing or laterally moving the Armed Forces personnel after the end of their military service into suitable government organisations and departments where their unique skills, training, disciple and strengths can be optimally used.
Despite recommendations of the Parliament and Pay Commission to implement the lateral transfer of armed Forces personnel to civil departments, these proposals have yet to be implemented in a meaningful way, despite it being known that such measures are widespread the world over including in China, and in advanced economies like South Korea, Singapore, Israel, Switzerland, and the United States. This is mainly on account of want of energy and commitment by the MOD, and obstruction by the MHA.
Can you guess the savings that will result under the above scheme?
Well, the Sixth Central Pay Commission’s Report (March 2008) estimated that the “at the end of 13 years, the annual savings on this account will be to the tune of ₹ 7,800 crore at constant price index“. Lateral transfer-absorption, if implemented, would in the longer term result in savings in the overall pension bill, and would more than off set projected expenditure on OROP.
And guess what?
The UPA government ignored this recommendation. Instead, seven Central Armed Police Forces, headed by officers from Indian Police Service (who have direct access to the Minister of Home Affairs),were elevated to apex pay grades, a grade higher than that of most Lt Generals, including those in command of Corps of the Indian Army.
The Narendra Modi Government is truly suffering vicariously from the sins of omission and commission committed by the UPA government.
First, the latter did nothing about the Supreme Court’s OROP verdict of Justice Altamas Kabir of 9 September 2008. Then it did mere lip service to the Koshiyal Committee Report of 2011 recommending what is soon to be implemented—as promised by the present government.
What is the NDA’s sin that it should bear the cross of its predecessor? Pappu and the fasting-cum-shouting brigade must answer.
Will August 25 well mark its redemption?
Arvind Lavakere has been a freelance writer since 1957. He has written and spoken on sports on radio and TV. He currently writes on political issues regularly. His writings include a book on Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.