On 26 June, The Indian Express carried a report that said jawans (junior soldiers) would get just pittance in the name of benefits if the policy of “one rank, one pension” was implemented, leading to, as the government fears, litigations. Today The Times of India has on its front page a report quoting sources in the Ministry of Defence that reveals that the retired Army officers demonstrating for OROP want a revision of the pension of all retired personnel every time another soldier of the equivalent rank retires with the latest pension. That would, as the report rightly put it, be an “administrative nightmare”. Of course, the defence forces are among the few institutions of independent India that still enjoys the nation’s respect, and deservedly so. However, neither does the Army comprise senior officers alone, nor should it be taken for insult to the valour of the men in jungle greens if the factual position on the pay package is discussed in a bid to sort out what looks like a gargantuan clerical exercise.
It is officially nobody’s case that the state exchequer is terribly short of funds to concede the demand of the retired officers — no spokesperson of the government is making the point anymore. After all, this is a socialist state where billions go down the drain in the form of subsidies that are meant to uplift the poor, as just a trickle reaches the targeted beneficiary while much is lost to corruption. Why not spend in a domain where there wouldn’t be leakages, especially when the recapitalisation of public sector banks has made the state realise Rs 20,000 crore? About Rs 8,300 crore has already been allotted for the purpose; it might go up to Rs 12,000 crore, informs The Economic Times. The strain on the exchequer caused by the 3% annual increment in pensions is no big deal; a havildar, for instance, will reach the top of the chart and thereafter financial effect will be nil — as per the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pension).
Still if the financial implications are high, the expenditure on pensions can be brought down by reducing the ratio of military pensioners to serving military personnel from 1.7 to 1 — by absorbing whoever out of the retired lot can still serve the country into civilian jobs of the government — as recommended by the Bhagat Singh Koshiyari Committee. Further, posts for pensioned off personnel in Group C and D in Central Armed Police Forces can be increased from 10% to 25% as was recommended by the 5th Central Pay Commission to reduce the defence pension bill. The commission that succeeded it proposed that future posts in the CPOs/defence civilian organisations should be filled by lateral transfer of personnel, including Short Service Commissioned Officers, after they complete their term of military service. This is a pledge the BJP has to act upon.
The issue is complicated. In order that the jawans do not get a raw deal, the UPA government had carried out three rounds of equalisation. Yet no final solution could be arrived at.
A politically incorrect truism must be stated, nevertheless. Agitating for money does not behove men of honour — more so when they are so conscious and proud of such a status of theirs in society. OROP is totally justified insofar as income parity with civil servants is concerned. The NDA government that is committed to the cause, thanks to its electoral promise to that effect, is ready to offer that much. But its readiness to adjust the pension of all retired services personnel once every five years must be accepted, as it has climbed down from the norm of 10 years; the demonstrators must realise that their demand of an annual revision is not feasible. If the rollout is proposed beginning April 2014 — which was the protestors’ demand until recently — asking for January of the same year as the date for the retrospective effect again comes across as carping. Media reported last week that Prime Minister Narendra Modi badly wanted to make the announcement in his Independence Day speech; it was such a rigid stance of the protestors that made the declaration miss the grand occasion.
It is in the fitness of things that the negotiators on both sides of the table keep their word. What is offered and what is accepted — both involve the sentiment of honour. The government cannot treat our heroes shabbily; the heroes must not cease to be heroic.