Saturday, September 26, 2015
Finally The Armed Forces Get Their Due
All is well that ends well, so goes the adage. The issue of “One Rank one Pension,” in short,OROP to a large extent has ended on a happy note though it has come after 85 days of dharna, relay hunger strike and fasts unto death by some of the veterans of all ranks. There are glitches which still remain but hopefully they too would be sorted out.
The issue of OROP was first raised in 1973 when the pension of defence personnel was reduced to 50% by the then Pay Commission. It was a big set back to the defence forces who after giving a crushing defeat to Pakistan in the year 1971 which resulted in the creation of a new nation Bangladesh felt financially cheated by the then Government. Thereafter, many Governments came and went but the issue remained unresolved though many a false assurances and promises were given and finally all that happened was the formation of a Commission under the Chairmanship of Mr.Kosyari alongwith ten Members of Parliament from different parties.
The recommendations made by this Committee was for giving OROP to the armed forces and it was accepted in principle by the then Government and was approved by both Houses of the Parliament but they remained in pipeline only. The issue again came into prominence during the BJP’s election campaign in the year 2013. The Prime ministerial candidate of the BJP during election speeches held out a promise to the ex-servicemen that in case he was voted to power the OROP will be implemented within 100 days of his forming the Government.
It is heartening to note that after some flip flop the Hon’ble Prime Minister through the untiring efforts of his Defence Minister has delivered on his promise. No doubt it has not happened within the stated 100 days but perhaps it was the complexity of the issue that led to the delay. It is unfortunate that now when the Prime Minister has fulfilled the promise it is being said in some quarters that he has made the announcement keeping in view the Bihar Elections. Those who are saying so are being uncharitable to the Prime Minister. The task was quite gigantic that it was not possible to resolve the same within 100 days and that is why it took the time that it took. Both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister deserve kudos.
While the Government, more particularly, the Prime Minister on whose leadership the nation is pinning many hopes deserve to be complimented, there is a disturbing feature and it relates to the role of the bureaucracy and the serving Chiefs of the defence forces. When the announcement was made by the Defence Minister it came with a rider that the benefits of OROP will not be applicable to those defence personnel who had opted for VRS. It came as a big surprise to the ex-servicemen fraternity. What was even more surprising to them was that the three service Chiefs who were present at the press briefing with the Defence Minister knew that there is no such concept in the armed forces as VRS. The question arises why did the service Chiefs not bring this fact to the notice of Defence Minister or is it that they deliberately chose to remain silent? And what about the Defence Secretary? Does he also not know that there is nothing known as VRS in the Armed forces. Why was this faux-pas allowed to happen. It is a poor reflection on the Defence Ministry of which the bureaucratic head is the Defence Secretary. And as for the Service Chiefs they needed no briefing. They ought to have known about it like the back of their hand. Had our Service Chiefs and the Defence Secretary pointed out this fact at the right moment an urgent meeting by Major General Satbir Singh the leader of the ex-servicemen with the Defence Minister would have been avoided and it would not have required no less a person than the Hon’ble Prime Minister to clarify that the OROP would be applicable to all pensioners pre-mature retiree or otherwise.
When the Prime Minister Modi took over the reins of power it was widely believed that the old order will change and will give way to new dispensation. Unfortunately, this perception has so far not changed. The general feeling, more particularly, amongst the Armed forces is that the bureaucrats sitting in their plush offices put spokes in the advancement of their career prospects without having a complete and comprehensive idea of the onerous and difficult situations in which they are serving the nation. Most army-men even go to the extent of saying that these Masters who have the final say on what they should get and what they should not get be asked to spend just one day at Siachen Glacier /Super high altitudes and if they come back in one piece they would give up their fight. In view of such acrimonious feeling which some army-men harbour against the bureaucrats it will be in the fitness of things that whenever a decision is to be taken in the matters concerning the forces representatives of the forces must necessarily be involved.
Without going into the knitty gritty of how the OROP has to be rolled out to the ex-servicemen, one is left wondering why the Government is insisting on having one man Judicial Commission to look into this aspect. Should a welfare Government stand on ego? After all, a five Member Commission as is being proposed by the veterans will not per-se grant them what they are asking for. The purpose of the Commission is to avoid confusion like VRS etc. which can best be explained by those who know the intricacies of the problem. Moreover, the veterans who want to be Members of the commission are not asking for any monetary or other benefits for working as Members of the Commission which are generally given to the members of other Commissions that are set up by the Government. In any case whether it is a one man Commission or five Members Commission, the final decision will always rest with the Government. So what is all the fuss about? The veterans are offering free service which the Government should welcome rather than spurn.
And lastly a word for Mr.Arun Jaitely our Hon’ble Finance Minister. There is also a feeling amongst ex-serviceman that the matter got delayed not at the level of the Defence Minister but at the level of the Finance Minister. It will be better if Mr.Jaitley who otherwise enjoys an unsullied image clears the air that he was not a stumbling block in the implementation of OROP.
Finally those who spear headed the movement led by Major General Satbir Singh (Retd.) and his team deserve full credit and a salute from the entire armed forces.
The writer of this article is a former Judge of Delhi High court.