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Thursday, June 4, 2015

My op-ed @ Rediff: Soldiers’ Welfare- Prime Minister proposes, bureaucratic machination disposes

The following op-ed was published @ Rediff on OROP and also the need to look beyond the same:

Soldiers’ Welfare: Prime Minister proposes, bureaucratic machination disposes

Navdeep Singh

The bogey of the “paramilitary” perceivably demanding the applicability of “One Rank One Pension” (OROP) at par with the military is yet another case of throwing an additional spanner in the works by the lower bureaucracy of our great nation, thereby totally confusing the political executive.

As most even slightly connected with the subject would be aware, though concept of OROP seems ideal for all government employees, it is the defence services which deserve it the most and the foremost because of their early retirement with no guarantee of post-release employment.

What should put the otiose comparison to rest is the fact that while personnel of the defence services start retiring at the age of 34 onwards, members of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are released in their late 50s. So at certain ranks, the latter serve even two decades more than the former thereby not only garnering higher lifetime earnings and financial protection but also multiple pay and emolument revisions due to the fact that they get the benefit of serving during the currency of subsequent pay commissions by which time their comrades in the military may have long retired, and some, faded away.

It is an open secret that accountants and lower bureaucracy in the Ministry of Defence have always misguided the higher bureaucracy and military brass and also the political executive of the reality concerning the defence services. File notings are prepared in a mischievous manner so as to elicit negative replies. Not only their own bosses, but an attempt is made to fool even the Courts and Parliamentary committees, or else how could one justify the straight lie peddled by the Ministry of Defence before the Koshiyari Committee of 2011 that OROP would be difficult to implement since documents of defence personnel are destroyed after 25 years? Hogwash it was since it is the documents of non-pensioners which are destroyed after 25 years while the documents of pensioners (to whom OROP applies) are retained till perpetuity.

While I have full faith in the Prime Minister’s commitment towards OROP, and also of Mr Manohar Parrikar, who is as well-intentioned as one can get, I would just want to warn them not to take at face-value what is presented to them by the bottom of the hierarchy. It is the political executive through the higher bureaucracy from the top that has to impose the policy decisions on to the lower layers and not the other way round. The Government has to be run by the top echelons and not by the army of Section Officers and Under Secretaries. Policy has to be determined by the Government under the Rules of Business and not by Accountants of the Defence Accounts Department. Decisions must be taken by due discussion and inputs from experts and insulation from reality by a coterie ensconced in a web of negativity should be avoided. The attempt to water down the definition of OROP must also be fervently resisted. There is only one definition of OROP, and that stands solidified by the Government itself- similar amount of pension for each rank with similar length of total service, with the benefit of future enhancements passed on to past retirees. 

Which also brings me to the role of military veteran organisations. Veterans should not jump the gun with every move or indication that they perceive to be against them. Instead they should be united, not bicker amongst themselves, shun their differences, present a cohesive front and then fight for their rights in a dignified manner. Statements of no less than the Prime Minister assuring veterans of his concern should not be brushed aside lightly and the tendency of hyper-technical hairsplitting of every public announcement with a negative connotation is best avoided, more so when we are so close to the goal. Due regard should definitely be rendered to what the Prime Minister has stated, but that is again not to say that in a free democracy we are entitled to advise others to muzzle their voices but one can definitely counsel to dignify the tone.   

One can hope that now that the issue is in national consciousness it is implemented swiftly. It is also hoped that all stakeholders, including military veteran bodies, would not lose sight of other insidious, and in fact, even more important issues that are staring them straight and which may not be glamorous enough or monetary in nature but still are a cause of major concern. Pertinent amongst these being the way disabled soldiers are treated by the system with the official establishment filing appeals till the Supreme Court in cases of disability pension awarded to disabled soldiers by Courts and Tribunals, the constant decline of the status and the sheen of the military rank in the official pecking order and also the society at large, guaranteed post-retirement employment with protection of military status and dignity, and most importantly the recent Supreme Court decision rendered on a plea of the Ministry of Defence and the Army wherein it was held that soldiers, veterans and military widows aggrieved by decisions of the Armed Forces Tribunal would not be able to approach the High Courts for relief- a disaster since it has snatched a fundamental right that is otherwise available to every  citizen and also to similarly placed civil government employees of approaching the High Court under the writ jurisdiction and thereby leaving the military community remediless thus making the Armed Forces Tribunal the first and the last court for them with no tiers or layers of judicial hierarchy at their disposal which is guaranteed to all citizens in all democracies. An unaffordable and inaccessible direct appeal to the Supreme Court under the Armed Forces Tribunal Act is also only permissible if the matter involves a “point of law of general public importance”, which is not the case with 99.99% of litigation before the Tribunal. This has come as the biggest blow since independence, but veterans, totally engrossed in OROP, do not seem to have realized the gravity of the situation.

While OROP remains an important emotive issue for veterans, the focus hence should not just remain limited to it but also on subjects which on the surface do not seem attractive enough since these have no nexus with finances, but affect the very basic existential rights of the military community which stand obliterated for them but remain available to all other citizens. 

While summing up, we, as citizens, should hope and pray that the Prime Minister’s sentiment is not held ransom by machinations and craftiness of a few junior babus who throw in an imaginary impediment at every welfare measure and resultantly snigger and giggle at the sidelines every time a soldier is ill at ease, and also trust that the veteran community continues to pay attention to persistent issues that will haunt their survival in life that shall be beyond their current aim- OROP.


Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate in the Punjab & Haryana High Court and the Armed Forces Tribunal. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels. He is also the author of “Maimed by the System”, a collection of real life accounts of military veterans and their families who had to fight to claim their rights. 


B Ramesh said...

Very true, Maj Navdeep. Let all (various)organisations of veterans come together and speak in one voice against non-implementation of OROP, loss of fundamental right to appeal, diability pensions and other related matters. That voice can be heard effectively and clearly only if all military veteran MPs (regardless of the party they belong to)join the chorus.

Cdr GC Rai (Retd), Indian Navy said...

Dear Sir, I am a constant follower of your website. I salute you for doing a selfless service for the soldiers and the Nation both. However I really do not understand why so much hatred or dislikes are there towards soldiers in the Govt mechanism. Whether it is going to end some day or not and if YES then when? Is the nation waiting for military to take the matter in own hand?

corona8 said...

"..totally confusing the political executive.."

I, at a personal level, will never be able to reconcile to that thesis. I very much doubt the political executive, at any time, has ever been "confused" about what relatively simple matters like vengeful litigation by MOD, OROP or Rank Pay are all about.

Further, it is my firm belief that any appearance of being "confused" is part of what the top most governing classes might perceive as necessary "statecraft".

VETERAN said...

@Cdr GC Rai ,
Forget about civilians hatred against service personnel.
Enemy of service peronnel is another service personnel.
e.g DACP FOR Doctors
Other services /ARMS -AGAIST AMC DOCTORS(pension - APEX COURT)
Regular officers V/S SSC OFFICERS IN UNITS.
As a vetran officer I can quote many examples ,
Many times I had to pullup officers in STN HQ/Sub Areas to follow the
Ao/AI strictly and not to read in between lines and deny the benefits to
ex-servicemen. So first lets first develop positive attitude ,be one and the lets
take on civilians together.
Choice is ours ,United we stand we FLOURISH or Else we perish.
Todays Serving Officer/OR is Tommorows exservicemen.

Jai said...

While in no way denying the justification for orop for armed forces personnel, I do feel that a better option would be to ensure that Armed Forces personnel on retirement are gainfully employed in defence PSUs (and other PSUs) post-retirement. If a guaranteed employment cannot be assured then at least a large proportion of vacancies (Say 30-40% in defence PSUs) could be reserved for veterans. Thus the oft-lamented financial burden on the exchequer could be obviated while at the same time there is no fear of a similar demand being raised by para-military forces and other services since they in any case serve till 60 years of age.

Another probable benefit of ataffing PSUs with a large proportion of veterans would be a shift in the work-force ethos of these PSUs from a trade unionist mentality to a services like one.

The same benefit could be given at officer level to those officers who super-annuate or are stagnated in The Services due to lack of vacancies for promotion and consequently opt for pre-mature retirement.

Anonymous said...

Dear Navdeep,

Please explain why a Col/Brig/MajGen/LtGEn/Gen should get the benefit of one rank one pension they are not the ones who retire in their 30s and 40s. They live regal Gentlemen life throughout their careers which are made even more better by utilising free army ration, vehicles, followers. They showcase these facilities in front of their relatives frequently often playing golf. There is a deep feeling of malaise in the lower ranks that these top officers try to grab everything for themselves showcasing the hardship of lower ranks who really suffer.
Anyhow can you explain if all these above officers should get OROP / Full penion , why shouldn't a CO/DIG/IG/ADG/DG of a CAPF should be treated on the same terms. An officer of CAPF faces the same or even more amount of hardship considering the fact that we are not even covered by penion ( we have to contribute for our pension after fighting for the country whole life and we get payed a lot less throughout our career at similar ranks compared to defence, such a pity ). We are considered as mere sacrificial goats not as own countrymen whose lives are as valuable as defence personnel.
Even at lower ranks such as Constable to Sub inspector , nobody wishes to serve in naxal infested regions or high altitude mountains at the age of 50. It is the service conditions which have made them to do so. If you implement one rank one pension , 2/3rd of the force members will leave in no time, such are the pitiable working conditions in CAPFs.
What is more disheartening is the fact that people such as yourself who know that condition in CAPFs is troublesome and very demoralising at all ranks, still you try to undermine their betterment. If you are so sensititve about army jawans. Be sensitive about BSF/ITBP/SSB jawan too he is the one guarding your border in all sort of hard terrain. Be thankful to CISF jawan too he is the one making your daily life secure standing 12 hours continuously in a shif. Be thankful to CRPF so that you feel naxalites and insurgents are being fought each and every day. And least of all be thankfull for their sacrifices though they are not even martyrs because they are just POLICE Personnel.

Unknown said...

Sir i wanted to check ruling for disability pension those who took premature retirement prior 2006. I was injured in mine blast training which resulted in loss of one eye permanently..My injury was assesed at 40% for life
and attributable to mil service Accordingly I claimed for disability pension for lump-sum amount which was sanctioned by the MOD but when i took premature retirement after 25 yrs 6 month the disability pension amount was taken back along with interest. I am told by the AGs branch that officers retired prior 2006 are not entitled for disability pension which i find very discriminatory. Sir could i request for your advice if any ruling on the subject which can do justice with me.Regards. Lt Col T.M.Sharma