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One of the issues that has caught the attention of the nation is that of One Rank One Pension (OROP). It was appalling to see the protesting veterans being shoved around by the Delhi Police a day before Independence Day. The reason stated was that Jantar Mantar had to be “sanitized” before the I Day celebrations as done every year. This made no sense to many who were affronted that those who secure our borders could even be thought of as security risks. I wasn’t. There can be infiltrators to a mass movement. Remember the “veteran” in Frederick Forsyth’s “The Day of the Jackal”?

Of course, the sensible thing to do would have been to give the protesters notice a few days before hand to clear the area for I Day. I am sure they would have gladly done this only to resume their protest on August 16. This was sadly not done.

I am no veteran and I can only understand their feelings when I see some of them resort to “fast unto death.” In my experience, Service Officers typically treated dharnas, strikes etc as manifestations of a sloppy civilian life. Today,  they themselves are following this route. Has this assumed political dimensions? Yes, it has with Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and Arvind Kejriwal of AAP showing support. Dharnas and strikes are in any case a favourite strategy of the AAP.

I began reading up on this topic and here’s what I have gathered so far. I would love to know more.

  1. Till 1973 the Defence Forces had better Pension plans than their Babu counterparts. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi changed all that. The Third Pay Commission brought about changes which adversely affected the Defence Forces.
  2. I don’t remember any agitation or any upheaval around that time, on the part of the retired officers or anybody else. I wondered how a strong personality like Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw who stood up to Indira Gandhi when she asked him to be ready for war in early 1971 had agreed to these changes. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that these changes were made after the Grand Old Man of the Indian Army retired in January 1973.
  3. It’s quite strange that the figures being thrown around vary so much. The Congress-led UPA wants to get the credit for agreeing to OROP but they made a provision of just Rs 500 crores in the interim budget for 2014-15. More recent figures speak of Rs 8400 crores. Is this a one time expense to bring things up to scratch. Is it a per annum figure from now on? Figures of Rs 16,000 crores and more are also being bandied about. Where does the truth lie?
  4. Some questions come to my mind: It is said that OROP is specific only to the Services as they face extraordinary risks in their careers fighting the nation’s enemies etc. While this is true in many cases, like the Infantry for example, there are wings of the Army which may not see combat in a War situation ever (like the Education Corps or the Dental specialists). How does OROP work for them?
  5.  Will whatever is agreed upon take retrospective effect or prospective effect. For example, if someone retired as a Major in 1960, will he get increased pension from then?
  6. I know of many Service Officers who have taken up civilian employment after early retirement/ retirement etc. They are earning well and entitled to pensions from the MNCs they serve. Will this be in addition to what comes from OROP?

They say the matter has reached the PMO and we hope some agreement is hammered out. There are misgivings that agreeing to OROP will lead to similar demands from others.  I am all for the Defence Services getting a fair deal, but it should be just that- a fair deal.