Saturday, January 17, 2015

The one rank one pension conundrum

by V Mahalingam 

The one rank one pension (OROP) portion of Manohar Parikkar’s interview (here at 13.55 minutes) in one of the TV channels needs some study and clarification to put things in perspective.
The minister in his interview has stated that the beneficiaries may not get 100 % satisfaction. If OROP is fulfilled as per the definition accepted by the government, there is no reason why there should be any deficiency in the satisfaction level of the veterans. Obviously there are some slippages.
Explaining this aspect he went on to say that there are personnel who join Armed Forces on the same day and retire on the same day but one may spend more number of years in the last rank hence, draw more pay and hence more pensions compared to the other person. The difference in pension could be as small as Rs 500 or Rs 1,000. But I am trying to find out a method of reducing this gap, may be at mid-point. I am also discussing this issue with many and hopefully I will come out with some solution satisfying maximum number of pensioners.
Yes it is possible but why would that happen? Is it the individual’s mistake? He reached the same rank as the other and served for same number of years. Did he work lesser number of hours or performed not as good as the other? The fact is, the number of vacancies for promotion in some of the arms and services are less compared to the others and hence while an officer who is in a particular arm gets promoted earlier because of the vacancy falling vacant, another officer in some other arm or service may have to wait for the vacancy to fall vacant. This waiting period in any case is not more than 2 to 3 years.
If the government is proposing different pension to officers promoted on different days but with same number of years of service and rank, it will not be OROP as per the definition. If the government intends to reduce the pension of those eligible for higher pension due to the number of years of service in that rank, there will be difference in the pension between those retiring today in the same rank with same number of years of service and the earlier retirees. That again won’t be OROP.
The government granted Non–functional Upgradation (NFU) to all Organised Group A Service officers of the bureaucracy on the ground that there is lack of promotional avenues. Interestingly, an army officer reaches the rank of a Major General, equivalent of a Joint Secretary after 28 years of service while a bureaucrat attains the same rank after 19 years of service. Also while 0.8 % of service officers reach the rank of Major General, 100% officers from the bureaucracy reach the rank of Joint Secretary. Are we blind to see where the stagnation and lack of promotional avenues are?
Under this NFU scheme, every officer of a particular batch would be brought under the same pay scale of an officer of their batch when he gets posted to an appointment tenable by a higher ranked officer irrespective of the location and appointment. The difference in pay is in thousands and the expenditure to the state in lakhs. That did not matter to the government. Why then is the government shying away when it comes to the military?
Did the government spend the same amount of time to assess the financial implication of NFU when the whole lot of director level officers of a batch was upgraded to receive the pay of a joint secretary? Mind you, there are 58 different services under the Organised Group A Services working under different ministries and every time when an officer of a particular batch in IAS or an officer in any one of the services gets promoted, every officer of the batch irrespective of which service he belongs to will have to be given the pay promotion. Presently an IAS officer gets promoted at the service of 17 years and the others two years later.
The system thus evolved promotes every one through the back door whether they deserve promotion or not. Hence in these services the system of Annual Confidential Reports is a joke and serves no purpose. The hoax is, in these services individuals can be promoted even without a vacancy being available or even when the individual is holding an appointment tenable by a lower ranked officer. This whole sale promotion system with total disregard to authorised establishment and number of vacancies specified in each rank passes the scrutiny of the finance while in the Defence Services even if a Sepoy is promoted Naik it is struck down. The rule is, you show the man and we will tell you the law.
Couldn’t the OROP issue be resolved by stating that the pension of the officer will be as per the entitlement of the officer or the pension which the officer of the same rank and service gets whichever is higher? In this case the calculation and the estimation of the cost to exchequer too would be simple as the date of commission, date of retirement and rank of the officers are available in respect of every pensioner and family pensioner in the Pensions Payment Order (PPO). The pension and the family pension being paid to the present retirees and widows too are in black and white and are being implemented presently. It will then just be, the transplanting the figures of the present retirees to the older ones.
The PPO contains only rank at the time of retirement, date of joining the service and date of retirement and qualifying service. So pensions are worked out based on rank and total length of service. If the Government of India introduces one more criterion of SERVICE IN LAST RANK, a data which is not available, the implementation will never take place. This diversion is yet again a means to confuse the issue and put everyone in circles, a usual methodology of the bureaucracy.
The Principle Controller of Defence Accounts (PCDA) will not pay the veterans till such time authentic data is provided to them and that cannot be made available. There would be many court cases on this issue as this violates the definition of OROP as given out by the minister of state of defence in a written reply to a query in the Parliament.
As per the 5th Central Pay Commission (CPC) scale, the difference in pension for every year’s delayed promotion for a Colonel retired in 1996 but before January 2006 (Maximum number of officers retire at the rank of Colonel) in the scale of Rs 15,100 – 450 – 17, 350 is mere Rs 225. The difference will be much less in case of officers who retired earlier. As brought out earlier, for a difference of 3 years in the date of promotion the extra amount will be about Rs 675. Is it too much for a Veteran who gave his best days for the country?
The defence minister, it is hoped is aware that like in the case officers, there are a number of groups in the Junior Commissioned officers and other ranks. For example take the case of Infantry. The Rajputana Rifles Regiment has 23 Infantry Battalions. Promotions are based on the number of vacancies available in a battalion. There are number of cases where a Sepoy in one battalion gets promoted as Naik in say 10 years and in another battalion of the same Regiment a Sepoy gets promoted at 12 years due to lack of vacancies in that battalion. In the Regiment of Artillery you have more complications. There are many trades such as Gunner, Surveyor, Radio Operator, Driver, Clerk, Store keeper etc. The vacancies are fixed in each of these trades and therefore promotions of Sepoys (called Gunners) are dependent on wastages, which is retirement. So you generally find that in one particular trade a Sepoy becomes a Naik with 8 years of service and in another he becomes a Naik at 11 years of service. The pay scales of each of these groups are different. Are we going to keep calculating the pension of each of these groups for different number of years of service rank and trade separately? If that were to happen, this exercise cannot be completed in even in 10 years considering the speed at which the bureaucracy moves. Are we creating these confusions deliberately?
Incidentally, isn’t this the first time that anyone has heard someone from the government saying that the deadline is July 2015, thus shifting the goal post from ‘before the budget’ to a later date? What is the intention? Is it to drag the implementation close to the 7th CPC and palm off the issue to them to decide and thus cause further delay? Is it going to be something similar to the way the government paid arrears to Sam Manekshaw just a few days before his death? The minister needs to understand that the veterans are an aging community. Many of those covered under the 5th CPC and earlier are in their advanced age.
Another bizarre thing that he stated was the total expenditure on account of OROP. His estimation ranged from Rs 6000 crores to Rs 14000 crores. If the bureaucrats of the government had not been able to calculate the total cost to the government in 11 months, in fact this exercise would have started much before the erstwhile finance minister Chidambaram announced OROP in the Parliament, these officers have no business to stay put in their jobs. The government might have changed but the bureaucrats are the same. Or is this once again a tool to delay the implementation?
The defence minister sang yet another old, out of tune song – the ‘bureaucrats may demand OROP’. This is an issue which was thrashed out thread bear in the Koshiyari Committee report and someone is trying to infiltrate this issue into the implementation process once again. The demand for OROP arises because defence services personnel retire much earlier than their counter parts in the civil. An individual retiring earlier will be in receipt of much lesser pay at the time of his retirement than his counterpart who retires at the age of 60. Accordingly, his pension which is 50 % of his last pay drawn is much lesser than the pension of the other. This is besides the huge loss to his overall life time income due to early retirement. The retirement benefits which a soldier receives at the time of his retirement too are much less than his counter parts based on his last pay drawn. The families of the soldiers too are affected in this system. The widows of soldiers receive 50 % of the pension of their husbands as their family pension whereas the families of the civil services receive much higher family pensions. These are despite the fact that the soldier serves under much difficult conditions with risks to his life and limbs.
If the government is prepared to pay the difference in the overall life time income due to early retirement including the value of perks, increments, dearness allowance promotion pay, gratuity, leave encashment etc. between the civil service and the defence services personnel; there would be no need for OROP. The choice is entirely up to the government.
From what the defence minister spoke during his interview, it is apparent that efforts are underway to confuse the issue and put everyone in a spin, delay and dilute the OROP scheme, a typical tactic of the bureaucracy to ward off something that they do not want to implement.
The present government which has been talking about good governance lost a great opportunity to demonstrate its resolve in the matter by not acting to withdraw the 800 odd appeals filed by the ministry of defence against its own disabled soldiers against the judgments pronounced by various courts. The Supreme Court instead stepped in during the hearing on December 10, 2014, to set aside the appeals of the government. If this delay in granting OROP is eroding the good will of the soldiering community and creating doubts on the ability of the government to reign in the bureaucrats and bring about good governance in the minds of the people, the onus would lie entirely on the bureaucracy.
Acknowledgement: Grateful thanks to Brigadier Sivasankar Vidyasagar (Retired) for his very valuable inputs.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.

V Mahalingam

Brigadier (retd) V Mahalingam, has held varying command and staff appointments in his 35 years of Army service. He specializes in security related matters and is a leadership trainer. His areas of interest include national security, defence and security forces, governance, and politics.

1 comment:

  1. Brig Mahalingam has explained the issue of OROP in a very lucid and convincing manner. It seems obvious that the Raksha Mantri has not come across or has been explained about the drastic implications of the loot called NFU being enjoyed by the civil services officers. OROP is not even a patch of that big and unjustified drain on the Governments treasury. The fault lies with the cunning bureaucracy and ignorance cum collusion of the functionaries in the previous UPA Government that this benefit has been approved for them and denied to the Defence forces of India under some unjustified pretext.

    The elucidation on the OROP given by Brig Mahalingam if brought to the notice of the Raksha Mantri should remove his misgivings and enlighten him adequately to hasten the implementation of the long overdue and justified demand of OROP and one of the foremost promises of PM Modi, has been over delayed due to undesired manipulations by the MoD, CGDA, bureaucracy without any justifiable reason. Incidentally the financial burden of OROP would be much less as compared to the highly unjustified grant of NFU to mostly undeserving civil services.

    Col LK Anand Retd