oppn parties OROP Now, But Reemployment Later Will be Sensible

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oppn parties
OROP Now, But Reemployment Later Will be Sensible

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
‘One Rank One Pension’ or OROP, as it has come to be known, was a long standing demand of the armed forces retirees. The Modi government has done well to keep its poll promise by granting the same, although a section of the agitators have not accepted it, saying that all their demands have not been met. Specifically, the decision to review after every five years and the one man commission appointed to look into other matters has not been accepted by the veterans.

On paper, a thing like OROP is flawed as it seeks to bring parity in pensions for people who retire at different times. The definition of pension perforce disallows it as it mandates payments as a percentage of last salary drawn at retirement after a service of x number of years as per service rules governing a particular post. Hence, if salaries increase after a person’s retirement, he or she cannot hope to get the benefit.

Having said this, the armed forces are a special case for four distinctive things. One, there are several ranks in the forces and these ranks have great importance in the hierarchy, making for the smooth functioning of the unit. Two, the length of service of an ordinary jawan is not more than 20 years, with retirement coming as early as 37 years, as the armed forces need to be staffed with young and fit junior cadre. Three, incapacitation of any kind almost always results in termination of service. Four, once the jawans retire they do not have alternative employment opportunities as they join early at 16 years of age and sacrifice their college years to protect the nation.

Till 1973, the ranks were scrupulously adhered to when deciding pension. This pension was also higher than that for civil servants, giving an impression of a kind of OROP being in place. But the third Pay Commission altered the landscape by clubbing several ranks, and hence reducing the bands, for the purpose of pension. The seeds of the OROP agitation were thus sown by bureaucrats who had little or no understanding of the importance of ranks in the armed forces. Taking this as the cue, the Indira Gandhi government scrapped the modified OROP then in place and brought pensions of the armed forces on par with civil pensions.

But OROP as announced now leaves an area of worry. Armed forces pensions are soon going to overtake its salary bill. This is not an ideal situation. But this is of the government’s own making. There are many areas where retiring jawans can be accommodated. Apart from the paramilitary forces and police, a 37 year old in fit condition can be employed to guard all the sensitive installations. In fact, there could be a National Installations Protection Force (NIPF) created, staffed solely by retiring jawans from the armed forces. They may be posted in their home states, so they can be near to their families after serving in far-off locations in the armed forces. This will kill many birds with one stone. One, the retiring jawans will be reemployed and they will not be required to be paid pension from the armed forces. Two, a crack protection force with trained personnel will be there to guard the nation’s sensitive assets. With increasing threat from terror attacks, it makes sense to invest in such a unit. Three, it will attract youngsters to the army (which has already seen a drop in recruitment applications) as the willing among them will be guaranteed a job in the NIPF after retirement.

Those who are criticizing OROP solely on the basis that it turns the definition of pension on its head should recognize the extenuating factors that demand a special case for the armed forces personnel. The only way to reduce the load on the pension bill of the armed forces is for the government to absorb retiring jawans in paramilitary, police, other security agencies or create NIPF as discussed earlier. Till then, OROP has to be paid to keep the morale of the forces high. A jawan concerned about his future is less likely to give his best on the battlefield. Further, fresh youngsters, finding that a 37 year old wastes his time at home after retiring from the army with a pension that does not keep pace with inflation, are less likely to join the armed forces. If we are to keep our army fighting fit, we have to provide for OROP now and think of reducing the pension bill in future by initiating reemployment procedures for retiring jawans. There seems to be no other way out of this impasse.