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One Rank One Pension: The Web of Incompetence of the General Staff

Updated on June 2, 2021
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MG is a senior air warrior who has seen combat and is an alumnus of the Staff College and a writer on military matters.

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Recently, I have read articles by very learned officers of the armed force on the subject of OROP or One Rank One Pension. What these worthies have written is true and there is no doubt that the Armed Forces have been discriminated against to a great extent. There is also no doubt that right from the days of Pandit Nehru, the Indian armed forces have not been given a leg to stand on and the general opinion of the civil administration is that the armed forces are a needless anomaly has been allowed to prevail.

President Dr. Rajendra Prasad proposed in 1955 that the Armed forces were an unnecessary appendage and the border could be manned by the police.

The Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947, when approached by the then Chief of Army Staff General Sir Robert Lockhart(15 Aug 1947-31 Dec 1947) with some proposals to streamline the Indian army lost his shirt and is reported to have shouted at General Lockhart that he had no time for any proposal for the Indian army and as far as he was concerned the army could be disbanded as the same job could be done by the police.

These incidents reveal the mindset of the political leadership, who had no comprehension about the strategic role played by an army in the furtherance of the political aim. This political leadership was thus open to suggestions from the civil bureaucracy for a down gradation of the perks and privileges of the army. In the background was the political leadership's view that the army was an unnecessary appendage and the same job can be carried out by the police.

Downgrading the Armed Forces

There is a long litany of complaints against the governments in power right from 1950, but the decision in 1973, to reduce pensions of the armed forces from 70% of the last pay drawn to 50% hurt the most. For the next 42 years, this anomaly persisted and successive governments thought it fit to sidestep the issue of armed forces pay and allowances.

The top brass of the armed forces let down the men they command and at no time did the Chiefs of staff put their foot down on any matter connected with this loss. I have read that the “tallest soldier" Field marshal Maneckshah been around, this downgrading of pension would not have happened. He as COAS did not put up a single proposal to further the careers of the army officers and men. He was just content to bask in the glory of a “great victory” over Bangladesh.

Sam Maneckshaw was lucky to become the army chief as he had very little battle experience compared to General Harbaksh Singh who had covered himself with glory in the 1965 war with Pakistan.

Modi promised but backtracked
Modi promised but backtracked

Failure of Top Brass

The Civil admin and the Congress-led by Indira Gandhi felt that the armed forces must be "cut to size”, hence this proposal of reduction in pension was made. Maneckshaw was very much aware of this but he did nothing. He was in the 'doghouse' for making intemperate statements. One of his statements that irked the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was when in a jocular manner he had said that in 1947 if he had joined the Pakistan army the Pakistan army would have won the war.

The reduction in pension was effected when the Army Chief was General Bewoor. His case as COAS had been pushed for by the then defense minister YB Chavan and obviously, this COAS allowed the proposal to go through.

It was the complete apathy of the Chiefs of Staff of the 3 services that allowed this proposal to go through. The armed forces accepted this without a ripple as they did many other decisions over the last 4 decades. Even a simple concession like the D Form for train travel that allowed officers to travel by train by paying 60% of the fare was restricted by the pay commission and the Chiefs just accepted it.

None of the chiefs thought it fit to take up with the government the case of restoration of pensions. This continued for 3 decades till the Congress government under instruction from Rajiv Gandhi accepted this proposal but they were defeated in the 2014 election.

Issue of OROP

OROP, is directly linked to rank and once the ranks are upgraded, the OROP demand would have been redundant, but then old pensioners have to be looked after. Who is responsible? Is it the IAS cadre or the Army's top brass?

How did it happen? It happened because the army top brass themselves were not too keen on it and thought of their own prospects. They thought it best to tow the government line. A decade back an ex-retired general Satbir Singh launched an agitation of ex-servicemen demanding OROP. The BJP was receptive and Modi in an election rally at Rewari in 2013 announced that OROP would be sanctioned as per the report and approval of parliament.

Parliament had appointed a committee under Bhagat Singh Koshyari to examine the pay and pensions of the armed forces and he had given a report which had been accepted by two Houses of Parliament. The report is very clear that one rank one pension must be sanctioned to the soldiers. Parliament adopted a resolution to this effect. Unfortunately, after Narendra Modi won the election he sanctioned only a one-time increase in pension and developed amnesia on other matters. OROP as defined by parliament was not sanctioned. This is where the matter rests and in 2021, even the provisions of the one-time increase offered by the Modi government have not been implemented and the agitation for OROP under Satbir Singh continues.

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The Modi government has not sanctioned the pristine OROP as approved by parliament. No explanation is given why it is not sanctioned and sadly there are an entire lot of retired senior generals who are backing the government.

The matter is before the Supreme Court but this is neither here nor there as the GOI has made it amply clear that nothing more will be done. The Supreme Court has not been hearing the case and is just giving new dates and over 3 years have elapsed.


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