As ex-servicemen continue to press their demand for One Rank One Pension, Brig Harwant Singh (retd), a representative of United Front of Ex-servicemen, in an interview with Khushboo Sandhu, talks about the anomalies in the notification issued by the govt and the demands of the veterans
What are the demands of ex-servicemen?
One has to see the problem in totality and not in a segmented form. Defence and development go hand in hand. You cannot have development if you do not have strong defence operations. From 1948 onwards, the Army was degraded financially as well as in terms of status. In 1971, when we claimed our biggest victory, the Third Pay Commission was in operation, whose report came out in 1973. Before the establishment of this commission, the pensions of sepoys and soldiers used to be 70 per cent of their last paid salaries. In case of civilians, the figure used to be 30 per cent. Bureaucrats, however, reduced the pensions of military people from 70 per cent to 50 per cent and increased their own from 30 per cent to 50 per cent.
That time they promised that military personnel would be given One Rank One Pension (OROP) and would be absorbed laterally so that they did not have to retire. That was the time when they made the report public after Field Marshal Manekshaw had retired. They were, maybe, apprehensive that if the report was opened during his tenure, he would take up the case strongly and their conspiracy would not succeed. Meanwhile, bureaucrats completely went back on their words. The defence forces took up the matter and nothing materialised because defence forces are, by and large, very well behaved and victims of the famous saying, ‘Sharafat Ali ko sharafat ne maara’.
In 1982, the government appointed a committee led by K P Singh Deo, who was the Minister of State. He was the one who coined the word One Rank One Pension. In fact, the then prime minister Indira Gandhi agreed in principle.
Unfortunately, she was assassinated and the matter did not go forward. Then came the Fourth Pay Commission, causing us more damage. The commission had given us rank pay, which was over and above the normal pay. The babus, however, while fixing the pay, reduced it. Major Dhanapalan noticed this and moved the court somewhere in 1991. The thing was corrected after almost two decades. Some people have now got arrears of rank pay.
Why did agitating ex-servicemen reject a notification issued recently by the government on One Rank One Pension?
There are three-four things that are badly missing in this. First, it is not OROP. The idea is that what a person gets today, old people will get the same length of service and the same ranks should get the same. Now, the person who retires next year will get more. Old people will not get that much as it will be revised every five years.
Second, they said that the pension would be an average amount. But we do not know what average is. We do not know what formula they use for calculation. They have taken the base year as 2013. On what basis have they done this?
The biggest damage is the system of premature retirement. It is after you have earned your pension. For a jawan it is 15 years and for an officer it is 20 years. This notification says that premature retirement will not be applicable for future retirees. The implication is that if your heart is not in the job, you will be forced to continue with it in the hope that if you go away, you will not get the benefit of OROP. Unmotivated people will be a drag on the system. In times of crisis, these people might create despondency. They will speak against the government and the system.
There has been a spate of protests across the country. What will be the future course of action?
We have been agitating ever since the Sixth Pay Commission report came. The VP Singh government had promised ordered bureaucracy to implement OROP. That did not happen. The Khurana Committee raised hopes to implement OROP. But, unfortunately, the elections in 2004 were preponed and the government lost.
The Sixth Pay Commission had a large number of anomalies and we started agitating fiercely. Every government promised, but nothing happened.
This notification has ignored the draft government letter agreed to by the three services and accounts people. Revision should be done annually and not after five years. The base year should be 2014. When it was accepted by the present government and the previous government, then 2013 has no relevance. We have had a number of rallies. We returned our medals and we will continue till the government agrees. We are not going to stop, because every year, 60, 000 people are retiring. We do not want new people to sit at Jantar Mantar.
So, the expectations ex-servicemen had from the current government have not been fulfilled?
Not at all. If the government had told us that they wouldn’t give OROP, we would have remained quiet. But they kept on raising our hopes. Parrikar [Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar] said hum jaldi karenge (We will implement it soon). Modi ji went to Siachen and promised the same thing. What they have given is peanuts.
What are the changes required in the current set-up?
You cannot live without the Army, and it has to be the best Army. Otherwise you will be defeated. It must be given lot of izzat (respect). When I was undergoing training in the Army, our adjutant was the maharaja of Jaipur. Our pensions were very high. The pension of a Brigadier was equivalent to that of the Chief Secretary. Over a period they have done away with that. There is no izzat, no money. So, why should anyone join the Army?
In India, they feel the Army is like any other department. It is not. It’s a different kettle of fish. Our people start retiring when they are 35. Then there is disruption— every two years they have to shift. What about lingering danger? There is a saying that second-rate incentives attract second-rate people. But defence operations of the country cannot be entrusted to second-rate people. It has happened in history and it is happening now. The day is not very far off when we will be worse off than what we were in 1962. History repeats itself. Unfortunately, our babus and netas are so blind they do not see the repercussions of war. We have become totally unfit to fight against either China or Pakistan.
We are making noise not because of money. It’s because the country’s defence operations are degrading. They, perhaps, are scared that agar fauj tagdi ho jaye to kha jayegi. Arre hum nahi khayenge (If the Army becomes stronger, it will swallow them).