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'To compare bureaucrats to those in armed forces is laughable'

By Sudhir Bisht
Last updated on: August 28, 2015 18:03 IST
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‘Service in the Armed Forces can’t be compared to government service. If that basic premise is not accepted, then there’s no scope for any debate on OROP’

‘No one joins the Armed Forces on a contract. They join to serve. Armed Forces attract those who want to serve, not based on financial terms and contracts’

Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a passionate advocate of OROP, speaks to Sudhir Bisht.  

Ex-servicemen and their families continue their protest demanding OROP at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. The protest has now been on for 75 days. Photograph: PTI

Rajeev Chandrasekhar is a passionate votary of One Rank, One Pension and has been championing the cause since 2006 vocally within and outside Parliament.

He has taken over 60 major initiatives inside and outside Parliament including 25 interventions, 30 letters to government, 12+ articles in the media and dozen meetings with ministers and veterans.

Most recently, on August 24, 2015, he was the only politician who visited Jantar Mantar and expressed his solidarity with and support to the protesting veterans, their family members and to OROP.

The member of Parliament spoke to Sudhir Bisht.

It has become politically incorrect to question the implementation of One Rank One Pension, but there are several government employees who feel that they will lose out if the scheme is implemented. What is your take on it?

It is not politically wrong to ask questions but they do not understand the very different service conditions our armed forces endure.

Is it not important to make a distinction between officers and jawans? Officers retire at the age of 54, with two extensions. A jawan, on the other had, retires at 38. Hence, isn’t the premise that all armymen retire young wrong and the portrayal of the same incorrect?

Most of the benefits of OROP are for jawans and war widows. The bulk of the armed forces do retire young and OROP is a legitimate right.

Officers are a very small percentage of the total strength of the armed forces. Besides this, the ethos of the armed forces is based heavily on honour and respect to seniority. The fact is that there shouldn’t be differences or divisions between terms of officers and men, their nature of service and risk and the fact that OROP was a norm for many years is reason that officers also have a right to OROP.

Why is it surprising that a retired major general gets a pension less than a young retired colonel? This happens everywhere, all the time. A retired Central Reserve Police Force commandant who is 75 years of age will get lesser pension than an assistant commandant who is 60 years of age. A retired deputy secretary who is 80 gets 20 per cent less pension than the under secretary who is just 60 and has just retired. The logic for OROP for people retiring at different times doesn’t make any sense.

As I said earlier, comparing the armed forces to the paramilitary forces or any other government service is the argument that the governments of many years have used to justify the denial of OROP.

The basic premise of OROP is the recognition that serving in the armed forces is different in many ways. If that basic premise is not accepted, then there’s no scope for any debate on OROP.

Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar

The Indian Army does a great job for its citizens. So does the CRPF, the Border Security Force and Indo-Tibetan Border Police. The officers of these paramilitary services compulsorily retire at 57 if they don’t get the DIG grade. How is it then that only army officers can be given the OROP benefit?

Like I said before, Army officers can’t be separated from the men they command and lead into battle and conflicts. These arguments have been debated endlessly before, including to a parliamentary committee on petitions (Koshiari committee) and addressed. The armed forces are not the same as the paramilitary forces. They differ in many fundamental ways

When these retired officers joined their respective jobs, they entered into a contract. The contract didn’t say that they will get One Rank One Pension. To force it upon the government is an act of negotiation, just as any union or association would pursue with its employers. This makes OROP a subject of negotiation and NOT a matter of right, as is being portrayed.

I disagree. OROP became a promise that was made and committed. There is not much to negotiate on OROP, except perhaps the terms of the payment in keeping with the government’s economic situation. To many in the armed forces, this is a right.

No one joins the armed Forces on a contract. They join to serve. Armed forces attract those who want to serve not based on financial terms and contracts. To think so, betrays a lack of understanding of what makes men in the forces tick.

And, nothing is being ‘portrayed’. It’s a simple issue of principle to those who serve and to those in our country who value the ideals of service to nation. Veterans have been asking for this for several years and the current situation is the culmination of decades of frustration. It is not a ‘portrayal’ to see repeated instances of apathy to the overall cause of veterans and a system that has remained apathetic to normal dignified requests all these years.

If OROP is implemented for the armed forces, the paramilitary too shall demand the same. And why not? It is well known that a high number of General Reserve Engineer Force/ Border road workers die due to frost bite or cold while working in high altitude road projects, many more than the number of soldiers who die during border skirmishes. Why should GREF personnel not demand OROP? Why should the fire services not demand OROP?

Like I said, there’s nothing preventing people asking or doing things. But as I have answered, this is a bogie, a red herring raised for several years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already committed to this because he has no doubts of the very different service conditions of the armed forces. Additionally, this is not to say that the other forces do not deserve improvement in their terms, but clearly none that justifies OROP.

Government servants who joined after 2004 are no longer entitled to a guaranteed minimum pension by the government. In light of this, shouldn’t any formula given by the government be welcomed by the armed forces, as the days of guaranteed pension are over?

I hesitate to say this, but say it I must. A bureaucrat is no way comparable to a man or woman who serves in the armed forces. Nowhere is this comparison even attempted, not in the United States, the United Kingdom or even China. It’s laughable and making that comparison is ludicrous.

Countries like the US and UK and most other advanced democracies, with armies that are facing conflict, venerate the men and women who serve.

The UK parliament has even passed a law called Armed Forces Covenant (the Armed Forces Covenant is the expression of the moral obligation that the government and the nation owe to the armed forces community. The covenant acknowledges that members of the armed forces sacrifice some freedoms and often face dangerous situations. It recognises that families play a vital role in supporting the operational effectiveness of the armed forces). It is only in India where our men and women have to go through the humiliation of a comparison with a discredited bureaucracy.

Sudhir Bisht is a published author and a freelance columnist.  

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