One Rank-One Pension: Modi must resolve this
The PM must take charge before this issue becomes a festering sore on the psyche of the armed forces he reveres so much.
- Total Shares
National security analysts rarely write about the softer issues related to human resources management. They confine their deliberations, debates and discussions to the relations between states, the external and internal threats, challenges and vulnerabilities, the national security strategy that must be drawn up, and the defence expenditure and the force structures necessary to achieve that strategy. However, when personnel management issues begin to have an adverse impact on the morale of serving soldiers sailors and airmen, analysts have no option but to sit up and take notice.
Morale is one of the major principles of war that guide military strategy and tactics. Field marshal Montgomery had said, "The morale of the soldier is the most important single factor in war." Morale is a product of leadership, discipline, comradeship and confidence based on trust. All of these components must be maintained at all times; if any of these begins to drop, morale suffers.
Besides the inadequacies in defence preparedness, including critical shortages in ammunition, it is common knowledge that issues related to the pay and allowances of service personnel remain unresolved for decades, such as the anomalies in the implementation of the Fifth and the Sixth Pay Commission reports. Other issues that have been weighing heavily on the minds of armed forces personnel include the lack of adequate married accommodation for officers, Junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and other ranks; excessive litigation by the government to oppose court judgements that are favourable to veterans and war widows, even when the contested amount is a pittance; and, the inability to construct a suitable National War Memorial.
Perhaps no other issue has had an adverse impact on the morale of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the veterans in recent years as the inexplicable delay in the implementation of the promise of "One Rank-One Pension" (OROP). Many of today's armed forces personnel are second and third generation soldiers. They are deeply affected by the non-implementation of the promise of OROP made by the successive UPA and NDA governments to their fathers and grandfathers, some of whom are virtually on their death beds. Shashi Tharoor wrote recently, "This entirely reasonable demand - made by people who have risked their lives to protect our borders, our nation, and us - was acceded to by the UPA government, echoed by the NDA, and announced again by the new regime after its ascension to power. Barely two months ago, Prime Minister Modi declared emotionally on his visit to the troops in Siachen that 'One Rank-One Pension has been fulfilled'."
It is difficult to comprehend why it is taking the government so long to issue instructions regarding the implementation of OROP. Manohar Parrikar, the defence minister, has said repeatedly that the file on OROP has been sent by the ministry of defence to the ministry of finance with his approval. He has also said that the annual expenditure on OROP will amount to Rs 8,300 crore. The finance minister had said during his budget speech that the required funds will be provided. He must now come forward and explain the reasons for the delay.
In an interview to the Tribune on May 30, the prime minister said, "We are committed to OROP, but we are in consultation with defence personnel regarding the definition of OROP… The dialogue is being actively pursued." Clearly, the government is speaking in different voices. This has created confusion and sown the seeds of doubt in the minds of the community of ex-servicemen. The veterans are no longer sure whether they will get justice.
Incidentally, there can be only one definition of OROP. According to a Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing) release, the definition of OROP approved in the meeting chaired by the defence minister on February 26, 2014 was as follows: "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 enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pension of the current pensioners and the past pensioners, and also future enhancements in the rate of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners".
To quote Shashi Tharoor again, "As far back as 2003, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence recommended One Rank-One Pension, calling it 'a debt' the nation had to pay. It is a debt our government must honour. Not to do so is an act of dishonour. It dishonours the nation and the flag these men have fought to defend. And it thoroughly discredits those who would treat the well-being of our jawans and officers as one more election promise to be lightly cast aside."
Serving armed forces personnel and veterans have yet to be given the full arears for the denial of rank pay for many years. They are coming around to the view that the bureaucracy is the biggest stumbling block. This issue has become one more bone of contention in civil-military relations, which have been bad at the best of times. The veterans associations are planning to once again hold mass rallies and fast for justice. They are even considering boycotting official functions like the Independence Day and the Republic Day celebrations.
The situation must not be allowed to turn ugly. The prime minister must step in and take charge before this issue becomes a festering sore on the psyche of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the veterans he reveres so much. He owes it the nation to ensure that promises made to the armed forces personnel, serving and retired, and to war widows are honoured.