Dear Hon’ble Members,
The winter session of the Parliament is to begin shortly. The eyes of some 1200 million Indians will be on you to consider and debate their problems and to take momentous decisions to move this country forward. This vast population includes some two million Indian Ex Servicemen (ESM), who also will look at you all with great hope and expectation. Their population in the overall context may be small but the contribution made by them to keep India safe and united is far out of proportion to their numbers. They have been demanding ‘one rank one pension’ (OROP), which is equal pension for equal service. The latter in their context is length of service combined with the rank on retirement, which in turn defines the level of responsibility they held while in uniform. So it is ‘same rank, same service, same pension’.
OROP is not a new demand. It has been on simmer for over 25 years. It received fresh impetus after the Sixth Central Pay Commission, where absence of a defence representative led to recommendations that are detrimental to the very ethos on which the edifice of our defence forces stands. That the government has since accepted a separate pay commission for the defence forces ‘from next time on’ underscores the acceptance of their mistake.
The ESM have the resilience to survive in their paltry pension. What they are demanding is not more money per se. They are seeking justice and equity. They want all pensioners, past and present, to get the same pension. Ignoring their demand is perceived by them as if they have been merely used and discarded. They feel cheated and hurt. One can live with poverty but living with injustice is difficult for self respecting humans.
Why is the government not sanctioning OROP? Even though you would be better placed to answer this question, let me give the reason gleaned during my various interactions with those who frame and influence national policies. No one has questioned the legitimacy of the demand; “If we give it to you, other government employees may also demand it”, has been the only argument. Other government employees are not our adversaries; they are our own kith and kin. However, their conditions of service are vastly different from those of the defence forces. Apart from risks, dangers, difficulties, separations, dislocations inherent in a soldier’s life, his 24×7 work schedule for months on end is unique. The biggest difference is in the age at which they retire. An Army Sepoy – and over 85% of all personnel go home as Sepoys – is compulsorily sent on pension after 15 years of service. Being thrown out of job in mid Thirties on a meagre pension when one’s financial commitments are at a peak is a great trauma. An example would put the issue of relativity in correct perspective. Of two young men of the same age and education background, one joins the Army and the other the police (taken only for illustrative purposes). If they survive till the age of 75 years, the total difference in their earnings from salary and pension is approximately 47 Lacs in favour of the Constable. The relativity with other civilian employees would not be materially different. That is why the non-defence personnel have not pressed for OROP. If they were indeed aggrieved, they would not wait for the ESM to take lead.
Seeking parity between old and current pensions is not something unethical. If it were so, one is sure you all as Hon’ble members would not have accepted its applicability to yourselves. Nor is such a demand illegal since our Hon’ble members of the judiciary are also enjoying benefits of this provision. The soldiers, in the normal course, should get preferential treatment. Here, they are not even being treated at par with others.
Selective comparisons are never fully valid. However, since soldiers all over the world face similar fate, it may be relevant to quote excerpts from a speech President Barack Obama gave at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention on August 17, 2009:
“And our nation owes these Americans — and all who have given their lives – a profound debt of gratitude… And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defence… We will fulfil our responsibility to our veterans as they return to civilian life… Whether you’ve left the service in 2009 or 1949, we will fulfil our responsibility to deliver the benefits and care that you earned… These are commitments that we make to the patriots who serve – from the day they enlist to the day that they are laid to rest…”
A soldier is intrinsically shy and is conditioned to project his problems through the established channels. However, when his demand for justice is repeatedly stonewalled, his options get limited. It is not only unusual but also unfortunate that the Indian veterans have been forced to state their demand publicly. They are resolved to continue their protest in a lawful manner till they get justice.
I have had occasion to interact in person with a number of you belonging to different political parties. Interestingly, each one has expressed sympathy and support for OROP. However, after the issue is processed through the government machinery, the colour seems to change and OROP continues to remain a pending issue. This dichotomy bothers us, the ESM.
Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)–
CK Sharma, Moderator
Member, Steering Committee, IESM