Friday, September 11, 2015

OROP: Can we monetise every act of service?

Central Armed Police Forces, paramilitary forces, doctors, teachers, miners in no way serve the nation less than the armed forces

 Defence personnel get various service benefits that are not provided to their civilian counterparts; moreover, their rank and promotion are largely decided internally, and armed forces are a voluntary service organisation. 
The government of India has finally decided to implement OROP (One Rank, One Pension). Most defence personnel are reported to be satisfied with the decision. However, my view of the Indian armed forces has changed substantially during the course of the agitations that preceded the government declaration. So, what exactly is the basis of the demands of the personnel of Indian armed forces?

Now, there are two major contentions that emerge. First, are the defence personnel paid adequately? Indeed, adequate pay and benefits are necessary to keep defence forces motivated and for defence career to remain attractive to the Indian youth. The second argument is that the rank and promotion of defence personnel is not in line with civil personnel. In other words, defence personnel feel that they are short-changed in the larger government system.

The first question, clearly, is not simple to answer. However, let us start with pay comparison of armed forces personnel relative to other government services staff (see table).

Armed force personnel are already provided separate military service pay, field area allowance, counter insurgency allowance, high altitude/uncongenial climate allowance, Siachen Glacier allowance, flying pay, parachute pay, special forces pay, etc.

In addition, defence personnel get various benefits that are not accorded to their civilian counterparts, such as dedicated army hospitals, army schools, army colleges, subsidised food and beverages, etc. Also, defence personnel’s children have a quota or are given preferential treatment in admission to various institutions such as Kendriya Vidyalayas, army schools, Army Institute of Law, Symbiosis Institute of Management, Army Institute of Management and many more. Thus, the first argument that armed forces personnel are not paid adequately is really not tenable.

Second, defence personnel contend that OROP is their right because everyone at the same rank should get the same pension. This is also not a tenable argument. Over the last few decades, we have witnessed the time to rank has changed substantially. For instance, in the 1980s, the time-scale of service required to attain the rank of a full colonel or to pick up a colonel-equivalent rank was over 20 years, which has, in recent times, reduced to 15 years.

Therefore, the relationship between rank and years of service itself has changed over the last few decades.

In addition, the rank and promotion of armed forces is largely decided internally. Annual confidential reports are considered and evaluated in a timely manner by an initiating officer (usually immediate superior: IO), then a reviewing officer (usually superior to IO: RO) and then a senior reviewing officer (usually superior to RO). These annual confidential reports and qualified training courses generally form the basis of promotion. Clearly, armed forces have a very well designed promotion policy.

Therefore, the promotion and ranks of Indian defence forces are laid out and decided internally; the government of India cannot be blamed for discrepancies (if any). It is almost for certain that the government is not responsible for financial compensation for any discrepancies.
Above all, what message is being sent out to the youth of the country by those protesting? The communication is loud and clear: I served in Indian armed forces to earn money, and because I sometimes served in perilous conditions, I must be paid more. If this is the message, then why are the others, including Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF)—Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)—and paramilitary forces such as Assam Rifles, Special Frontier Force and Indian Coast Guard, not provided pension and OROP.

The BSF guards most of our borders and not the Indian Army. The CRPF personnel have more field deployment compared to army personnel. What about doctors? Do you realise that a typical junior resident (first-year post-graduate student of medicine) probably works for unimaginable hours and sometimes for several days at stretch? What about the constabulary of the state police forces? The cutting-edge level of state police forces work long and perilous hours each day. What about our teachers? What about miners? I think if we start monetising every act of service, then there will never be any resolution to this quandary. Are we trying to say that the CAPF, paramilitary forces, doctors, teachers, miners serve the nation less than the armed forces? More importantly, are they less patriotic?

One must also understand that Indian armed forces are a voluntary service organisation. We do not have compulsory draft into armed forces. Over the years, the personnel of Indian armed forces have been complaining that the society does not respect them as much as it used to in earlier times. Post the OROP agitations, the respect for them has not increased.

The author is professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He earlier served as a consultant with the Indian Army and the ministry of home affairs. Views are personal

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