Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s announcement of the implementation of One Rank One Pension (OROP) for military veterans was expected to bring closure to the 83-day-old protests at Jantar Mantar in the capital. The veterans have accepted OROP from July 1, 2014, with 2013 being the base year of calculation, while rejecting five of the six announcements. The points of disagreement are technical: the veterans want the pensions to be equalised every two years, while the government is willing to do so every five years; the veterans want the pension of old retirees to be fixed at the maximum of current retirees, while the government has agreed to fix it at the average of the maximum and minimum; the veterans wanted a five-member commission with military representation to submit its report on the anomalies in implementation within a month, while the government has set up a one-member judicial committee with a time-frame of six months. These technical minutiae can be resolved by the two sides after mutual consultations.
But what seems to have angered the veterans is the attempt by the government to sneak in a new clause about the denial of OROP to volunteer retirees. Because the armed forces have no concept of a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS), it surprised most observers when the defence minister used this term. Military personnel who take premature retirement do so for organisational reasons — the armed forces are a steeply pyramidal hierarchy, where only a fraction of personnel get promoted, and the military would want the young and motivated among its ranks. Excluding these premature retirees from OROP — about 40 per cent of all pensioners — would be discriminatory and detrimental to the organisation. The prime minister has announced that this clause will now be removed.
Even though the impasse continues for now, a final resolution is near. It is thus time to step back and look at the consequences of what has happened in the last few months. A government committed to fiscal prudence has agreed to Rs 12,000 crore in arrears, and an additional annual defence pensions bill of Rs 8-10,000 crore. This bill will increase every year, with a quantum jump when a new pay commission announces its award, as is scheduled to happen next year. In this period of global economic downturn, the government will have to ensure that it doesn’t breed OROP-like demands from other employees, such as those in the paramilitary forces. More importantly, the fabric of civil-military relations in India has been bruised during the recent protests, with an overt politicisation of the veterans community. Serving military personnel, who have deep connections with the veterans, have also been impacted by the acrimony and bitterness. The political leadership urgently needs to soothe frayed tempers and restore the delicate balance in civil-military relations.