Friday, November 27, 2015

End politics over OROP

by Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh, (Retd), PVSM, AVSM

The curse of the delay is causing divisions within the fraternity with a set of pro-government and anti-government OROP campaigning bodies — the classic ‘divide and rule’ gets the better of the innocence and desperation of the veterans

Even in the most avowed democracies, wars, terrorism, insurgencies and natural calamities ensure the relevance and respect of the defence forces and their veterans. Matters pertaining to military and its veterans are also hot currency, politically. Not surprisingly, the run up to the US presidential elections are witnessing similar emotional pitches with a Democrat Hillary Clinton stating, “Today we are failing to keep faith with our veterans,” and pledging “zero tolerance for the kinds of abuses and delays we have seen”, to a Republican Jeb Bush stating emphatically on his campaign website that, “We don’t have the money is not an acceptable answer when it comes to providing choice and care to veterans. This is a problem of priorities, not funding.”

In India, too, the ruling dispensation was able to punt and cash the electoral cheque of appropriating ultra-nationalistic credentials, by passionately espousing veteran causes and promising to implement “One Rank, One Pension” in a time-bound manner with the exact specificities as passed by Parliament. The subsequent reneging via the concept of electoral jumlas is a “friendly fire” that the Indian soldier was unaware of. Instinctively, the Indian soldier does not have requisite skills or inclination to negotiate, bargain or doublespeak with his own government and seeks reciprocal dignity and time honoured tradition of a “word” given.

Now, the OROP’s avoidable narrative is getting dangerously political. Unlike our neighbours, Indian defence forces have been fiercely apolitical, restrained and bereft of any internal divisions in the rank and file. Today, the continued impasse and the insensitive handling and procrastination is leading to implosive fault lines. Initially, the campaign was studiously apolitical (despite trophy visits by certain Opposition party leaders), absolutely non-mutinous in tonality and phraseology (given the intractable link between the serving and the retired) in the most “officer-like” manner, despite multiple provocations and temptations to be otherwise.

Now, it is showing strains of quasi-unionisation (a definite no-no in military operations), with multiple bodies championing alternative formulas and approaches, each accusing the other of a “political benefactor” — an avoidable outcome of the delay. Similarly, symbolic medal-returning by soldiers gets wrapped up as part of the larger debate on the “politics of returning awards” by the artists and writers, with all its political allusions and import. Now, the Indian soldier is even asked to “prove” his apoliticalness and is getting ticked-off by the first-time Union minister for defence on the “unsoldier-like” conduct of the campaigning veterans (some of whom are war heroes and have given up to 40 years of their lives in the uniform)!

The curse of the delay is causing divisions within the fraternity with a set of pro-government and anti-government OROP campaigning bodies — the classic “divide and rule” gets the better of the innocence and desperation of the veterans, and the politics set inside and outside the movement.

The divide then gets even more dangerous and innovative within — it potentially posits the officers vis-à-vis the other ranks, it divides those retiring at 20 years versus those who serve the full term, it even divides the defence forces with their cousins in the para-military and so on.

For an ecosystem that has survived the curse of the combined apathy of the political classes and civilian bureaucracy by minding their own, in their respective barracks, this unprecedented infusion of politics within the comity of the defence forces is cancerous and sure to impact the efficacy and fine record of the Indian defence forces.

The tragic martyrdom of Col. Santosh Mahadik, who died in an encounter leading his men from the front and placing himself in the line of fire, is a shining example of the institution’s ethos and classless nature. It is such-like spirit that is at risk of getting squandered with overt politicisation and polarisation of a so far watertight outfit.

Key deterrent to rapprochement is one of trust deficit between the stakeholders — the seeds of which were laid by the governments post-Independence, which saw the defence forces as a legacy of the coloniers and a potential challenge to the acceptance of the political classes — thereafter, the task was conveniently accomplished by the willing babudom.

Now, the ghosts of suspicion need to be addressed with a transparent and inclusive approach by the government. Cherry-picking of pro-governmental OROP campaigners is tactically tempting, though strategically disastrous — it politicises the institution and impacts efficacy. An immediate joint committee (with time-bound mandate for resolution) needs to be formulated. This committee can hear out the grievances, facts and clarify the pain points of the OROP movement, directly — the earliest and still the largest body of the OROP campaigners, led by Maj. Gen. Satbir Singh (fighting for the original scope of OROP without any dilution, as passed by Parliament) need to be represented. Given the sensitivity of the case, the Prime Minister himself should hear out the final outcome of the committee report, in person. Given the fractious history, an inclusion of any civil servant in the committee would only vitiate the discussions (more so, after the emotions within the defence forces after the tabling of Seventh Pay Commission and its implications for the forces). Post the agreement, surely the bureaucracy can step in to execute the modalities and conduct business as usual.

The OROP campaigners claim to have done the due diligence of financial calculations and implications (core issue in government’s dishonouring the OROP in toto).

However, addressing the veterans through spokespersons of political parties condescendingly debating on TV or surrogates has only led to the current stalemate. Let the nation know the hard facts and it is possible that the OROP campaigners may have erred in calculations, let that also be clarified factually — but, in an era of multi-thousand “packages” being doled out to politically relevant states, it would be interesting for the government to quote the exact amount of differential monies that it feels it cannot pay for the cause of veterans and the defence forces of India.

The writer is former lieutenant-governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry

History of inauguration of IMA

The 10th day of December is a memorable day for the Indian Military Academy (IMA) as it was on this day, in 1932, that the formal inauguration of this prestigious institution took place. Though the academy began functioning on October 1, 1932, it was only on December 10 that Commander-in-Chief Sir Philip Chetwode inaugurated the Academy. 

The inauguration had to be delayed more than two months. The first cadets arrived on September 30 and IMA opened on October 1. Chetwode said in his speech at the inauguration, “I wish I could have welcomed the Gentlemen Cadets (GCs) of the new Indian Military Academy on the day they first made their appearance here, for it was a memorable day in the history of the Indian Army.”

He added, “I could not do so because it was pointed out to me that they had not yet received their uniform, nor were they sufficiently drilled to make an inspection on parade possible. At the request of the commandant, I, therefore, postponed my visit until today, when he said that he would be ready to receive me.”

Brigadier LP Collins had been appointed the first Commandant of the academy in January 1932. The holding of examinations, nomination of cadets and other preparatory activities had begun figuring in news reports. The July 30, 1931 issue of The Pioneer, under the caption ‘Notes from Dehradun’ wrote, “His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief, was here for a few days last week, from July 14 to 17. He was probably here in connection with the Indian Military Academy, which has only a couple of months ahead of it now before opening.”

The founding of this prestigious academy in 1932 was the culmination of a long drawn battle fought in circles such as the Central Legislative Assembly and the Round Table Conference by stalwarts like Sir Sivaswamy Aiyar, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pandit Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai. At the end of Commandant’s speech in Chetwode Hall on December 10, 1932 came the historic inaugural speech of Sir Philip, the concluding words of which have echoed in the hearts and minds of young GCs and officers of the Indian Army over the generations. These words, inscribed in letters of gold in Chetwode Hall, are the credo of the academy. 

The words are,

 “The safety, honour and welfare of your country
come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command
come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety
come last, always and every time.”

These words form the quintessence of the values of the noble profession of arms. Sir Philip’s speech was widely reported in newspapers. Greetings poured in from many quarters and messages of congratulations were received by IMA on December 10, indeed a red-letter day for the great institution. Before the inaugural ceremony was the Ceremonial Parade. At 9.45 am, the GCs marched into the parade ground. Ten minutes after this arrived Brigadier Collins, who was received by GC Smith Dunn.

At the stroke of 10 came the Commander-in-Chief. The inaugural ceremony in Chetwode Hall was followed by a display of physical exercises by the cadets. Later, Sir Philip attended a hockey match between IMA and the RIMC. The day concluded with an ‘at home’ in Chetwode Hall, with the Commandant as chief host.

The history of the IMA from 1932 to 1947 is common to India and Pakistan. The crucial link between the founding of a military academy and the attainment of Independence was acutely realised by a section of the Indian leadership in the days of struggle for Independence. Their concerted efforts resulted in the initiation of the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms — which enabled 10 Indians to be sent to Sandhurst for training — setting up of the Skeen Committee in 1925 and later holding of the Round Table Conference in London in 1930, which recommended the establishment of the Indian Sandhurst without any delay. As a follow-up action, the Government of India set up a committee to work out details under the chairmanship of Field Marshal Sir Philip, who was then Commander-in-Chief, India. The committee submitted its report in July 1931, recommending an establishment for training 40 entrants in each term. The academy became functional with a course strength of 40 GCs.

The first course had on its rolls Sam Manekshaw, Smith Dunn and Mohd Musa. All of them later became chiefs of the armies of their respective countries, namely India, Burma and Pakistan. The course was christened ‘Pioneers.’ The Government acquired the estate of the erstwhile Railway Staff College at Dehradun, which had the appropriate buildings and a fairly extensive campus to meet the requirements of the academy. The campus was taken over for the academy in April 1932 to begin a glorious tradition. 

Committee of Experts for Reduction of Litigation in The Ministry of Defence and Strengthening of Mechanisms of Redressal of Grievances, Submits Report

Some Highlights in different colours to be noted
As we submitted our Report to the Raksha Mantri today, we felt proud as well as relieved.

Proud, since we were a part of a historic opportunity initiated almost seven decades into independence, to not only look into steps for minimizing litigation initiated against soldiers and veterans by the Ministry of Defence but also to address the status quo in the various systems of redressal of grievances, and improvement thereon, for the men and women in uniform and also defence civilians who so proudly serve us in trying circumstances. Relieved, since the last few months were heavy on all of us, as we went about this onerous task diligently and honestly and in great detail within the granted time so that we do not let you down.

Burdened by thousands of cases involving the MoD and the dissatisfaction on this account, the Raksha Mantri had constituted a Committee of Experts for review of service and pension matters including potential disputes, minimizing litigation and strengthening institutional mechanisms related to redressal of grievances. The step was in line with the Prime Minister’s vision that Government departments should concentrate on core issues of governance rather than wasting time and resources on unproductive activities. The Committee functioned almost like a Blue Ribbon Commission by going into minutiae of multiple issues and by interacting with various wings of the MoD as well as the Defence Services.

The 509 page Report is a result of that hard work for which thanks is due to all Members, that is, former Adjutant General Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal, former Military Secretary Lt Gen Richard Khare, former Judge Advocate General Maj Gen T Parshad and Kargil War-disabled and inspirational personality Maj DP Singh. All of us were equal partners in the final result.

We would also like to place our gratitude to the Raksha Mantri, Mr Manohar Parrikar, for not just being willing to take the bold step of identifying these issues which have caused major heartburn but more importantly for ensuring that only apolitical personalities with domain knowledge were a part of the Panel and also ensuring that there was no interference in our functioning and for encouraging us to render honest, candid and sincere observations without fear or favour.

We assure you that we performed our duty without any personal baggage or pre-conceived notions. Our approach was to make certain that practical on-ground efforts be made to reduce litigation, especially appeals, and also steps taken towards maintenance of harmony between employees and the establishment and balancing of rights of both parties which would lead to an increase in productivity and also enable the Government to focus upon administration rather than avoidable disputes with its own human resources. Our approach was conciliatory and we have consciously postulated only practical, progressive, workable, reformatory and gradual solutions rather than impractical or knee-jerk revolutionary ideas. On implementation, we are confident that this Report would result in a complete legal, administrative, cultural and social shift in the system bringing in harmony and a calming effect.

In our Report, which contains 75 recommendations, we have touched upon various aspects of pension and service mattersdisciplinevigilance and promotion issues, military justice reform, issues concerning civil employees and areas of potential disputes.
We have already recommended that our Report be made public in the spirit of transparency. However, till the Report is fully in public domain, the broader contours of the same can be spelt out.

We have attempted to identify service and pension related policies, including those affecting disabled soldiers and widows, which have been interpreted in the favour of employees and have attained judicial finality at High Court/Supreme Court level but in which the establishment is still filing appeals, and have recommended theimmediate withdrawal of all such appeals and harmonizing such policies and conceding similar cases in tune with judicial pronouncements. This includes issues related to declaration of in-service disabilities wrongly as “Neither Attributable to, Nor Aggravated by Military Service” by the system and injuries sustained while on authorized leave. We have taken note of the rising disabilities due to the inherent stress and strain of military service for which due benefits must be released. We have observed that the default reaction of official instrumentalities is ‘to appeal’ in cases decided in favour of employees and there is resistance to come to terms with the fact that the officialdom has ‘lost’ a case. Many appeals are fuelled by prestige and official egotism. We have also expressed concerns regarding over reliance on finance entities in decision-making and have stated that at best finance entities can comment upon financial implications but cannot go into the realm of merits or demerits of subjects which fall in the domain of medical or legal knowledge. Finance entities cannot override decisions of executive authorities competent to take those decisions under the Rules of Business or delegated powers. We have also recommended more role for all ranks in consultative process concerning pensionary policies.

We have recommended initiation of greater personal interaction and opportunity of hearing in the system of formal Complaints and Petitions so as to give a better role to human interaction rather than the one-way noting sheet method and to assist in providing outlet and catharsis to individuals related to their grievances. We have also propagated greater constructive usage of social media, including initiation of blogs by senior commanders, to promote an interactive process with the rank and file. We have recommended a face to face ‘collegiate’ system of decision-making in various aspects rather than the file circulation method. We have recommended more transparency in the system of promotion boards and matters related to promotions and confidential reports and decentralization of powers from power-centers that may have emerged and also changes in the system of dispensation of Military Justice.

The recommendations in the Chapter of Military Justice Reform include steps that can be taken without any legislative change such as introduction of permanent infrastructure for Courts Martial at specified stations to reduce ad hocism and reduction of Command influence in the process of military justice. We have also recognized other areas such as lack of adherence to the concept of separation of powers and independence of JAG Branch requiring statutory or legislative intervention for which we have recommended a high level Study Group to ensure that reforms in these very important areas are not ignored and are configured with the times and the best national and global practices.

We have also identified that civilians employed in the MoD are unsung heroes on whom adequate energy is not focussed. We have identified many issues concerning defence civilians which have attained finality at the High Court or Supreme Court level which need to be resolved by issuance of corrective policies.

We have recognized other areas of potential disputes including those of disabled cadets, women officers and Short Service Commissioned Officers. For SSCOs, we have recommended the grant of ECHS, reversion to the 5+5+4 system of engagement with graded grant of benefits and introduction of a Contributory Pension Scheme. We have also recommended restoration of outpatient medical facilities withdrawn from SSCOs and ECOs during late 2000s.

As far as appeals filed by the Government are concerned, we have stated that in the case of both civil and defence employees/pensioners, the orders of the CAT or the AFT if rendered in their favour should ordinarily be accepted and appeals by the Government should only be made in exceptional cases with the High Court being the last forum for appeal as a matter of policy.

While we went about our task sincerely, there was a minority which had imputed that the Committee had been appointed by the Government and hence would be speaking the language of the establishment. We wish to place on record here that we have been thoroughly objective in our Report as desired by the Raksha Mantri himself and we were functioning in an Honorary capacity after squeezing out time from our respective professions and routines and hence I personally found such voices not in good taste. The end result is objective and dispassionate and demolishes that minority view.

More details on the subject would now be made available by the Ministry of Defence when the Report is made public. The process of consideration of the Report would be initiated after 25th December 2015.

We wish to thank everyone for the unstinting support to the cause of defence employees, including our men and women in uniform, and we are hopeful of a colossal turning point from today due to this effort personally initiated by the Raksha Mantri.

Jai Hind.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

OROP: Will this misinformation campaign ever end?

Does freedom of speech bestow on anyone the right to distort facts and spread misinformation by putting out unverified and unsubstantiated information couched in some form of communication to bring about disillusionment against a group of people? That precisely seems to have happened when a media network published a narrative labeling it an opinion.

A query is raised in the article which claims that “a section is beginning to wonder if soldiers are being too greedy if they are totally disgruntled after the government raised pensions that will cost the taxpayer up to Rs 10,000 crore a year to start with and much more later”. Pray tell us how has anyone come to the figure of Rs 10,000 crores as the initial cost of OROP to the exchequer?

The defence minister is on record to assert “Some people say OROP has a huge cost burden, but I would say OROP is merely 2.29% of the total defence outlay.”  What does that translate into in real terms? The defence outlay (click Defence under Sectoral Highlights) for the FY 2015 – 16 is Rs 2,46,727 crores and 2.29 % makes just Rs 5650 crores. This is the defence minister’s statement as late as September 5, 2015. Is the author’s source of information more authentic than the Union defence minister? “What does much more later” mean? Does it not imply that the subsequent expenditure would exceed Rs 10,000 crores a year? Are these figures truthful by any yardstick?

The fact of the matter is the government has till date not shared the calculations and the details of One Rank One Pension (OROP) as assessed by it. How can any meaningful debate on the subject take place without even the basic data? Pray enlighten the country as to why these details have not been shared till date? Would it therefore be wrong to say that the debate that is going on the subject is infructuous and meaningless and the data put out in this article is meant to distort facts and to put the military veterans in poor light?

Now that the veterans have been pronounced “greedy”, the matter needs some retrospection. Defence services personnel are demanding OROP as a compensation for early retirement, Jawans at the age of around 35 years and officers at an average age of 54 years. On the other hand, how many people in the country know that the IAS, IFS, Indian Forest Services and other organised Group ‘A’ Services who retire after serving till 60 years of age with opportunities for post-retirement employment created surreptitiously have already manipulated OROP for themselves? Does the country know that these self-seekers are already on a scheme called ‘Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFFU)’ which entails pay promotion irrespective of the appointment, the job or the quality of an individual’s performance, once a single individual from the same batch gets appointed to a post tenable by an officer with higher grade of pay? This pay upgradation is till eternity and makes it possible for every individual joining these services to pick up Apex scales of pay during their service and OROP on retirement despite having served till 60 years of age. Now decide for yourself who is “greedy” and who are the self-seekers – the military veterans or the bureaucrats? Why hasn’t anyone questioned the wisdom of granting these financial benefits exclusively to a section of the government employees?

The article goes on to allege “Some ex-servicemen are talking of returning bravery medals to extract more money from the taxpayer”. The author may like to be more factual while making such allegations. The military veterans have been depositing their medals to the President of India as a symbol of protest right from 2008. These medals have not been returned but deposited duly documented as a mark of protest. Is there anything wrong or undemocratic about it?

When a soldier who wears the bravery medals in his chest as a matter of pride after earning it by his acts of sheer courage and grit at the cost of his own life and the future of his family is not respected, it is but natural the medal loses its value in a soldier’s estimation. It is for the country to introspect and find out if it has in any way contributed to upholding the value and respect for the bravery medals? The reality is, excepting within the services, no one cares for these medals or the awardees in the country.

The article goes on to add, “So far, the taxpayer and the media have supported the forces all the way and looked the other way when respected authorities like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India found glaring irregularities in the way defence land, mostly in prime locations in big cities, is managed, leased out to private parties, or used to build schools or luxurious golf courses and clubs where civilians can pay and have fun along with officers”.

This issue needs to be put in perspective. Military lands are managed by a department called the Directorate General of Defence Estates under the ministry of defence and not by the defence services or its officers. This department is manned by Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES) an organised Group ‘A’ Central Civil Service, incidentally in receipt of NFFU and OROP. No transactions pertaining to military lands can ever take place without the concurrence of this department. If the authorities have “looked the other way” to the misdoings of defence services officers after being indicted by constitutional authorities such as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India as alleged, no one is doing any favour to the defence services but are being instrumental in breeding indiscipline and corruption besides politicising the institution. If indeed that is the case, it must stop forthwith.

A point has been raised doubting the “successes of the defence forces after the 1971 war”. It is a shame that an Indian is asking this question. Is the author aware that no army in the world till date has carried out an attack uphill at a height of 19 to 21000 feet with the enemy sitting entrenched on top as in the case of Kargil Operations? Do we know what such an operation involves? Are we conscious of the fact that soldiers are being killed and wounded in our border areas on a daily basis? But for the efforts of the Indian Army, the geography of India would have changed by now. When soldiers say that they are not being respected and their efforts not recognised, are they wrong? People who know nothing about the working of the army may do well not to expose their ignorance.

A look at the government’s notification spelling out the definition of OROP will bring to light that the notification (See November 2015 Serial 28) issued by the government on OROP is in fact ‘One Rank 3 years behind half-baked mixed up 5 pensions’ with no semblance to the definition echoed more than once in the Parliament. Why hasn’t anyone questioned this discrepancy? If indeed the government has a problem in implementing the scheme in the form defined in the floor of the House for some reason, don’t the norms of parliamentary democracy demand that the changes are brought to the notice of the House along with the details of implications placed before it for scrutiny and approval?

KP Singh Deo Committee constituted in 1984 and the Standing Committee of the ministry of defence headed by Madan Lal Khurana recommended OROP. The All Party Rajya Sabha Petition Committee headed by Bhagat Singh Koshyari after examining all parties including government officials such as secretaries department of expenditure (ministry of finance) and department of pensions and pensioner’s welfare (ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions) submitted its report in December, 2011. The Supreme Court  gave its nod to the concept of OROP on December 17, 1982. The sentiments of the Parliament on the issue of OROP can be gauged from the discussions on the subject in the Parliament. Please keep these reports on one side and take a look at the government’s notification on OROP. Does the government notification have any semblance to the aforesaid? Obviously the bureaucracy has been sitting in judgment on the Parliament, its committee reports and the SC implementing only what it wants to. Are we in a parliamentary democracy or bureaucratic democracy? Does this not amount to the Parliament and the SC being undermined? Is this in the interest of democracy? The question is why anyone from the media or the so called intellectuals hasn’t questioned this impropriety till now.

The government notification on OROP also appoints a judicial committee “to look into anomalies” An anomalies committee built-in, in the notification, creating space for amendments, after the bureaucracy having sat over the definition for over 18 months? Never heard of an amendment to the document or an anomalies committee being notified in the very primary document right at the time of its opening issue!! Obviously the authors of the notification were unsure of themselves. Is this by any chance good decision making or good governance? With such authorities in positions of power and decision making no wonder files move at snail’s pace and projects fail to take off.

The judicial committee has been constituted precisely to hoodwink the veterans. These committees have no powers vested in them. These reports are invariably ignored and the bureaucracy implements what they think is right. This is purely a time gaining exercise. With the political leadership incapable of fathoming most of the issues, wisdom in the Indian context seems restricted to India’s know all bureaucracy alone. The Koshyari Committee description (2011) a Parliamentary Committee Report and that of the Kargil Committee Report (1999) headed by K Subrahmanyam, considered the doyen of India’s strategic community are gathering dust in the corridors of power. There are no reasons to believe why this Judicial Committee Report when submitted will be treated differently.

The clean environment in cantonments in which the soldiers live, their dress, gait and confidence seems to be irking some. All this comes out of training and a sense of discipline instilled in the soldiers. If the military areas are full of vegetation and trees it is due to the efforts of the troops and watchful insistence of its leaders. The military doesn’t have a Swachh Bharat Abhiyan like budget allotted to it. If the Defence Services have their own club what is anyone’s problem? Is anyone preventing others from having their own recreational or sports establishments?

Many may not understand that these off office recreational activities bond people which are the essence of cooperation and team work in difficult times. Most sacrifice not because they are exceptionally brave but because they have to live up to the reputation that they have built for themselves amongst their fellow soldiers and families. It is the self-pride in them that prevents them from escaping or running away from dangerous situations. The credit for developing such a climate and ethos goes entirely to the Army leadership. This in effect is the essence of military motivation and nothing else matters more than this in the matter of war fighting.

Governments don’t connive, tell lies, deliberately leak information to divide organisations and as a consequence put down individuals and groups. Promotions and appointments are not manipulated to put in place people of convenience. Ministers are expected to honor their promises and not shift goal posts. These are instruments for self-destruction and the demolition of individuals’ faith in the system. For a democratic government, pronouncements in the Parliament are sacrosanct. If the government fails to respect Parliament, judiciary and its own rules and laws, there is no way discipline or respect to laws can be brought about in a society and the defence services can be no exception.

Views expressed above are the author';s own.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Veterans to move to SC on OROP notification

CHANDIGARH: The United Front of Ex-servicemen on Sunday declared that it will move the Supreme Court against the Central government's "flawed" notification for One Rank One Pension (OROP). 

Major General (retd) Satbir Singh, who is advisor to the front, said here that the veterans will move the apex court within 10 days through noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani. 

Singh, who was on his way to Sirhind in Punjab to address an ex-servicemen's rally, reiterated that the veterans' agitation was not for money but for upholding the honour and dignity of the forces. The government's refusal to further discuss the anomalies in the OROP notification had downgraded the honour and dignity of the forces, he alleged. "An initial study of the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission indicates a further downgrading of that status," he said. 

He said the IAS lobby was working against the interests of the armed forces. "The sooner the government realizes these devious designs of the bureaucracy and makes amends, the better it would be. No government which disregards and disrespects its defence forces can survive for long," he warned.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Prayer That Shocked the World

When Minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:

"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good", but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot anti-abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.

We have abused power and called it politics.

We have coveted our neighbour's possessions and called it ambition

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honoured values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!"

The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest.

In 6 short weeks, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, logged more than 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively.

The church is now receiving international requests for copies of this prayer from India, Africa and Korea.

Commentator Paul Harvey aired this prayer on his radio program, "The Rest of the Story," and received a larger response to this program than any other he has ever aired.

With the Lord's help, may this prayer sweep over our nation and whole-heartedly become our desire so that we again can be called: "one nation under God"

If possible, please pass this prayer on to your friends. "If you don't stand for something, you will fall for everything."

Friday, October 16, 2015

One-rank one-pension - An economic analysis of an emotional issue

By Vivek Kaul 

I have been quoting a lot from the writings of British economist John Kay in my recent columns. The reason for that is very straight forward. I have read two very good books Other People's Money - Masters of the Universe or Servants of the People and Everlasting Light Bulbs-How Economics Illuminates the World written by him over the last two weeks. A lot of what Kay writes is very relevant for the times that we live in. And given that I have ended up quoting him over and over again. Today will be no different as well.

In an essay called A Fetish for Manufacturing which is a part of Everlasting Light Bulbs, Kay talks about an article he wrote in 1980. In this article he predicted that the British manufacturing would decline due the growth of North Sea oil production. Kay doesn';t explain the reason behind his prediction in the essay I am talking about and honestly, it is not important, given the point I am trying to make.

After the article was published there was a lot of controversy around it. As Kay writes: "Few critics focussed on the weakness in the argument. They claimed instead that what I was saying ought not to be true or, if it was true, ought not to be said."

After a point, Kay started to understand "that for many people the role of manufacturing industry was an emotional issue rather than an economic one." The phrase I want you pay attention on is that, "it was an emotional issue rather than an economic one".

Something similar is playing out in India right now - the issue of one-rank one-pension for India's armed forces. When an individual retires from the armed forces, he gets a pension. The pension amount depends on the date of retirement. Up until very recently, there was no ‘one-rank one-pension' in the armed forces. This essentially meant that individuals who retired at the same rank and had served similar number of years, did not receive the same pension, if they retired at different points of time.

Given this, an individual retiring in 2004 would get a lower pension than the one retiring in 2006, despite having retired at the same level and having served for a similar number of years.

It also needs to be mentioned here that a bunch of armed force personnel retire in their mid to late 30s and unlike the general segment of the population do not get benefits of a full-pay until the retirement age of 58 to 60.

The armed force veterans have been demanding one-rank one-pension for a while now. It was one of the key promises that Narendra Modi made during the campaign for the last year's Lok Sabha elections.

On September 5, 2015, the ministry of defence announced one-rank pension for the armed forces. As the press release said: "In simple terms, one-rank one-pension implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of their date of retirement. Future enhancements in the rates of pension would be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pension of current and past pensioners at periodic intervals."

And given that it took close to sixteen months for the Modi government to come up with anything concrete on the issue, it is not surprising that the issue has turned into an emotional one. Individuals who defend the borders of India, need to be treated better, is an oft-repeated argument.

The government estimates that "to implement OROP, the estimated cost to the exchequer would be Rs 8,000 to 10,000 crore at present, and will increase further in future."

The question is, can the government afford this? Let me make a slight deviation before getting back to the question.

I have been reading through this interesting book called The Challenge of Things-Thinking Through Troubled Times, written by the British philosopher AC Grayling. In one of the essays in the book titled Does the Government Know Best, Grayling writes: "Much of the debate about levels of welfare spending concern how much security should be provided, not whether or not it should be provided. The consensus in question is that the state has welfare responsibilities; the arguments are almost always about how much should be spent in discharging them."

So this brings us back to the question whether the government can afford this? And if yes, how much should it spend on it? The total budgeted expenditure of the government for the current financial year stands at Rs 17,774,77 crore. Rs 8000-10,000 crore is around 0.45-0.56% of that expenditure. Hence, if looked at in isolation, one-rank one-pension is clearly affordable for the government.

Nevertheless, the thing is that it won't stop at just armed forces. As a report in The Asian Age points out, the Central parliamentary forces also want one-rank one-pension. This includes the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Sashastra Seema Bal.

These forces are responsible for our borders as well as security within the country. They tackle the naxal threat as well in large parts of the country. So how can they be left out of one-rank one-pension? I think that is a fair question.

The Asian Age reports that the Central parliamentary forces have a strength of nearly nine lakh serving personnel and six lakh retired personnel. I haven't come across any clear thinking by the government on this issue.

It doesn't stop here. The PTI reports that the railwaymen also want one-rank one-pension. As the news report points out: "Railway employees are now asking for similar pension benefit, arguing that their duties too are "hazardous, risky and complex". In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Federation of Indian Railwaymen has demanded uniform pension policy for railway employees. "On an average, 800 railway employees get killed per year in the course of duty and nearly 3,000 sustain injuries at work," M Raghavaiah, general secretary of NFIR, said."
Saurabh Mukherjea and Sumit Shekhar of Ambit point out in a research note that the "cost of salaries/pensions for railway employees is 2.7 times the cost of salaries/pensions of the armed forces". Railways currently employs nearly has 13 lakh individuals.

Once all these factors are taken into account one-rank one-pension suddenly starts to look like an expensive proposition.

The question is will the government be able to stop after the armed forces? I don';t think so. And how will they finance this?

As John Kay (Oops I am quoting him again) writes in an essay titled How We Decide which is a part of Everlasting Light Bubbles: "Big decisions in politics and businesses are the result of political horse-trading, and are based on partial information, visions and prejudices, hopes and fears."

The feeling I get is that people in decision making positions haven't thought through the issue at the level they should have. In the years to come other government agencies will also demand one-rank one-pension and they are more than likely to get it.

Rest assured, you will hear more about one-rank one-pension in the years to come.