Monday, May 25, 2015
Musings of an Armed Forces Veteran on OROP
Col RP Chaturvedi has very nicely, freely and frankly amplified his thought process on non-implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP) to the Armed Forces veterans, Even after its announcement by PM designate Narendra Modi at Rewari Rally and by the NDA on assumption of office various authorities are dilly dallying the whole process on some pretext or other and have so far been denying the veterans, the fruits of their sacrifices committed during their long tenures in the Defence Forces. The RM who had been giving expected dates of issue of Government orders off and on, seems to have been thoroughly let down not only by the concerned ministries who have displayed least inclination to fulfill PM’s promise in giving OROP to the highly expectant veterans but also by the bureaucracy itself who seem to be bent upon opposing and sabotaging the implementation process on most unjustified arguments now being given by the Raksha Mantri. The NDA obviously has yet to live upto fulfilling PM’s oft repeated promise of OROP to the veterans.
One Rank One Pension (OROP) is perhaps the longest playing Reality show in India today. It even beats popular cinema, including the phenomenal ‘Dil Wale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge' (DDLJ) being screened at the Maratha Mandir, Mumbai for over twenty years. OROP however differs from DDLJ in its vibrancy. The political paradigm, the legislative cast, and the level of the latter’s honesty of intent keep changing. There is one constant; the Babu, lying in ambush, watchful of any improvement in the Fauji's service conditions, pay or perks, and ever ready to scuttle such effort. This may appear a harsh pronouncement, but Babudom's demonstrated apathy towards the Faujis does not inspire confidence in Fauji mind. Need evidence? There is enough to write a book.
The current legislative cast centre stage is, Defence Minister, Finance Minister and the Prime Minister. The verbal jugglery and contradictory public statements of these three keep stoking the suspense and confusion around the implementation of OROP-somewhat like the Finale' of TV Reality shows when winner is announced. Him? Me? Him? Me? OROP? No OROP? When OROP? How OROP? Twisted Definition masquerading as OROP- Kaddu being passed off as Mango? Dhak Dhak ! Dhak Dhak! Dhak Dhak! NDA Government's assumption of power in 2014 raised expectations that implementation of OROP would be one of the first items to be ticked off the new government's 'To Do' list, specially with Mr Modi's oft repeated and apparently passionate commitment to its early implementation. The hopes were raised further when Mr Arun Jaitley assumed dual charge of Ministries of Defence and Finance, as he could have synthesized the two ministries to act in concert for early implementation of OROP. Unfortunately Mr Jaitley failed our expectations. His apathy and lack of sincerity about the subject demonstrably stood out during a meeting with ex-servicemen (ESM) soon after assuming office. Walking in an hour late for this scheduled meeting, the Defence cum Finance Minister went through the meeting without making eye contact with participants and left them with two insights.
One. That promises made during elections are not meant to be honored-hinting that NaMo's commitment to Faujis about OROP was just an election ploy. Really? But we Faujis-men of honor, took our prospective PM seriously, assuming him to be ethical (Pran Jayein par vachan na Jaye). The meeting left the veterans confused if Mr Jaitley had got it all wrong or whether PM was indeed unethically promising something he knew he would not honor.
Two. Continuing to avoid eye contact, Mr Jaitley asked the shocked veterans to "Lower your expectations" regarding OROP. Hullo? Veterans are not beggars looking for alms. Expectations? OROP is a term precisely defined by several Parliamentary Committees over decades, AFTER hearing all stake holders including MoD and other ministries and departments.
“OROP IMPLIES THAT UNIFORM PENSION BE PAID TO THE ARMED FORCES PERSONNEL RETIRING IN THE SAME RANK WITH SAME LENGTH OF SERVICE IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR DATE OF RETIREMENT AND ANY FUTURE ENHANCEMENTS IN THE RATE OF PENSION TO BE AUTOMATICALLY PASSED ON TO PAST PENSIONERS. THIS IMPLIES BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN RATE OF PENSION OF CURRENT PENSIONERS AND PAST PENSIONERS AND ALSO FUTURE ENHANCEMENTS IN THE RATE OF PENSION TO BE AUTOMATICALLY PASSED ON TO PAST PENSIONERS.” So what does 'lowering of expectations' mean?
Is Mr Jaitley suggesting a change of definition? Reinventing the wheel? How illogical. If you want a Mango shake, and are served a Pumpkin Shake, and told it is 'Mango Shake', would you call it Mango Shake? It stays Pumpkin shake. Not a Mango Shake. Amazing, this simple point missed Mr Jaitley’s legalistic mind. Change of definition does not stay OROP and is NOT acceptable to Faujis. Period. This was the 'Dhakka Start' we had with the First Defence Minister of NDA 2014, who showed little empathy for his watch, little understanding of issues involved, and little ability to control, guide or steer the well-entrenched and obstructionist MoD bureaucracy, congenitally hostile to Faujis.
Little wonder OROP stayed in cold storage during Mr Jaitley's part time, disinterested and casual stewardship (?) of MoD. Veteran disenchantment with the NDA consequently started growing. Mr Manohar Parrikar's appointment as Defence Minister towards end 2014 was welcomed with a collective sigh of relief by the Veteran community. An unassuming, hands on, modest, hard working and result oriented man, Mr Parrikar has been an extremely successful Chief Minister of Goa over two terms. Alumni of Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai, he possesses a scientific tamper, a remarkable clarity of mind in getting to the crux of issues, and excellent
Within weeks of assuming office he got to grips with the long pending issues gathering dust in MoD, including OROP, by not just listening to the 'ghisa pita' MoD briefings, but also by interacting closely and extensively with stake holders - in case of OROP, with ESM. He thus got a better balanced picture of the situation, and then applied his technical and analytical skills to work a way around the obstacles, of which there are plenty in his ministry. Despite every argument 'against' OROP having already been heard by successive Parliamentary and Defence committees and being either rejected or resolved, the Babus of the parent ministry of Faujis never tire of pulling them out and presenting them as fresh logic against OROP time and again! Mr Parrikar has painstakingly worked with a sense of purpose to fulfill the BJP’s commitment of implementing OROP. His resolve is a welcome change, and in contrast, to the argument that election promises are just hoax. Veterans believe NaMo‘s commitment to OROP is real; and feel Mr Parrikar is much more closer to PMs Line of Thought than Mr Jaitley is.
Despite Mr Parriikar's clearly visible efforts and resolve, while OROP is YET to be implemented and the case file keeps shuttling leisurely from Finance Ministry to other ministries – we are familiar with this bureaucratic delay tactic- a regular confusing Tamasha is played out in media daily, with contrary signals of the 'announcement' being just 'three days away' or ' just there'. There are also (laughable) rumors
of the OROP issue being addressed to the 7th CPC for resolution. Hullo!! Are you kidding? Do Legislative decisions/ award get addressed to Pay Commissions for 'resolution'? CPC has different terms of reference as any professional knows. So such irresponsible and tension inducing 'maza lene wali khabar' from portals of power are certainly malicious. No marks guessing who is playing games.
The daily Nautanki resembles the 'Mutt and Geoff' technique of interrogation of suspects, which involves one interrogator roughing up and being tough towards the prisoner, while the other is sympathetic, soft, friendly; ensuring one or the other 'breaks his will'. The OROP drama has its own Mutt and Geoff, and while the Veteran community has so far played along, now the idea of being taken for a political Mutt and Geoff Drama, is dawning on most. Far from ‘breakng Veteran will’ it’s strengthening it.
There are also Red Herrings floated around, like 'If you give OROP to Faujis, EVERYONE will ask for it'. While this obstructionist and illogical idea has been put across ad nauseam and killed repeatedly by various Parliamentary Committees on OROP, let me re-explain. 97% of Faujis are compulsorily retired between age 35 and 42, to keep a young profile in the Defence forces (That is the reason that soldiers are referred to as 'Jawan'. Oddly, term 'Jawan' also gets used by the ignorant, to refer to anyone in uniform- CRP, BSF etc, where the right term is 'constable'). Faujis don’t' get to serve till 60 like other government employees. Consequent monetary loss to Faujis as compared to their civilian counterpart is minimum 60 Lacs at age 60. It is partly to address this that OROP is needed for Faujis. If there are any other departments or forces that send people home before superannuation, compulsorily, the same could be applied to them, but aside from that, it is a reasoned demand approved for Faujis by all political parties.
Shockingly the 'All will Ask for it' logic does not get extended to the Parasitical and one of its kind illogical and unjust loot in the world, called 'Non Functional Financial Upgrade' (NFFU). Self served by civil services to themselves at the officer level (Non Officer Civil employees are not covered), this parasitical dole implies that if your batch mate is promoted, you, despite not being promoted, will start drawing the same salary as him even if you continue to poodle fake in the lower job. Nuances vary, with IAS having 2 year lead over others; which the others are now fighting to get parity over this loot of tax payer's money for rewarding mediocrity. Tell me, which corporate would pay a guy higher salary for doing same lower work just because his colleague gets promoted? Government of India does this. Its like all life Happy Hour. And there are provisions to rise to be equivalent of a Lieutenant General at retirement time, even if you mark time all your life. Just stick around and enjoy, maybe work if inescapable, and enjoy the fruits of your friend’s promotion. Wow! Can it be any better?
And mind you, this NFFU Club is ONLY for Civil Services Officers. Forgotten is the lower bureaucracy who have no such system. There is a strong case to squash NFFU totally- its anybody's guess how much money goes into this parasitical scheme.
With above mind set, little wonder similar divide and rule suggestions keep appearing for 'selective application of OROP' to certain ranks/groups. This divide and rule tchnique has never got us anywhere as a nation, and yet Babudom keeps coming up with such pearls of unimaginative ideas. OROP as a principle is a universal system applicable to ALL defence personnel. Officer Men mix is undeniably the sole battle winning factor that fetches results. One cannot split them. Sadly, the Fauji has to explain, fight, go to court, and still not have OROP till the Almighty calls. Many have died waiting for OROP. Many more would likely do the same, as Mr Jaitley advises to 'lower expectations' and scrutinize till cows come home. Finance can afford the luxury of 'time being limitless'. For others, it is limited. As indeed it would be individually even for the minister. The THIRD legislative cast on OROP stage is PM Modi (NaMo earlier in this narrative). An extremely sharp man with a vision for India, he has risen from grass root levels of political pyramid and learnt lessons along. His views have been consistently developed, refined and self tested. He has deep rooted understanding and intuitive insights into political maneuvering. I personally believe the BJPs loss in Delhi elections was more an effort at 'AAP Mukti' as the preceding strategy of 'Congress Mukt Bharat'. Had it not been so, the many almost juvenile blunders would not have been made in Delhi. No Sir, NaMo is too smart for that.
With a firm hand on affairs of state, while policy is clearly centralized, execution is largely delegated but closely monitored. NaMo has an excellent sense of timing and PR. The large emotional issue of OROP is clearly a card that can be played again and again, normally before elections.
So when does the OROP card get played? It’s anybody's guess, but 2019 seems long way off. There will be multiple opportunities, like during Bihar elections or Bengal or UP elections. Or both? A multi-use will be attempted.
The veteran community is closely watching this with concern. In an era of connectivity and an active media, secrets, intrigue and double speak is difficult to conceal. The Fauji finds NaMo's volte-face to a commitment that catapulted him to power difficult to come to terms with. They are aware that last minute , perhaps mellowed down/ watered down version (Mango and Kaddu? ) of OROP may be announced closer to some sensitive timing, to garner support/ votes. First, it must be clear that OROP is a defined concept and needs implementation in letter and spirit. Dilution will NOT be acceptable to Faujs. Second. A 'Fail Safe' time line needs to be defined- Kargil Divas seems good, 26 July, by which time 'Money iin Bank' with OROP credits must be affected. This is a Legislative award, already been cleared in parliament and money set aside for it. All that remains is not so much an "Announcement" but the issue of implementation letter by MoD, on which the CGDA can credit money to pension accounts. Necessary tables are ready with Service Headquarters. How come fresh tables are being talked about? Reiniventing the wheel? Whichever way, beyond the ‘Fail Safe’ time line, a confirmation of betrayal would be assumed by ESM organizations that OROP has not been given. No last minute announcements would help change the situation.
It would therefore be most desirable for the PM to conclude the OROP story now, by clearing the implementation of OROP to slip into veteran bank accounts NOW, in the manner of "Ja Simran Ja, Apni Zindagi Ji Le", when Amrish Puri lets go of Kajol's hand to grasp Shahrukh's on the moving train in DDLJ.
Really, the train is steaming off. Many Veterans have already 'Gaddi Chadh Gaye' waiting for OROP, and many are boarding every minute. Why delay Mr PM? And Why ‘Doodh mein Mainganen Daal Rahe ho’ Jaitley Saab'?
With Warm Regards,
Col RP Chaturvedi,