This article is written by Yash Jain, a third-year student of Institute of Law, Nirma University. The article discusses the concept of One Rank One Pension in India and its origin in India and the intricate issues related to One Rank One Pension. The author also highlights why there is a need to bring One Rank One Pension in India.
OROP is not an anecdote of strive and struggle, but reverence in the form of justice which the protectors of our nation rightfully deserve.
One Rank One Pension has its roots deeply embedded into the Indian social order. There are varied interpretations of OROP but a general definition of OROP denotes “the same pension to be paid to the Armed Forces Personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”
For example, consider an officer ‘A’ who had been in service for 15 years from 1987 to 2002. Also, consider another officer ‘B’ of the same rank who has been in service for 15 years from 2002 to 2017. As per the OROP system, both officers had the same rank and the same length of service should get the same pension. This is what the military officers want and is the fundamental argument for OROP. Since the ex-servicemen have to wait for a particular interval to end before receiving the enhanced pension, the definition of OROP looks distorted and deformed. Moreover, questions regarding the payment of arrears, i.e. whether they will be entitled to arrears and from which point will the arrears be calculated to remain critical to the issue of One Rank One Pension.
There has been a long tussle between the government and retired personnel over One Rank One Pension which has engendered distrust in them. The fulcrum of the debate is the brawl between civilian bureaucracy and the military where both seemed to find ways to fulfil their own interests. While the ex-servicemen stand rigid on their demands, government officials continuously quibble on minor objections for granting one rank one pension.
The three uniformed services of the nation namely: the Indian Army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force are coherent to OROP. For that, the system of OROP should be effective which will ameliorate the status of retired personnel. The topic of One Rank One Pension has played a pivotal role in the nation throughout the years since it is an integral part of a veteran’s life. A drastic change can be seen in the salary of a person after the inclusion of OROP in the income.
One Rank One Pension in India
The battle that started from the 1970s, a shift took place post-1971 war, Indira Gandhi led Congress took an ex-parte decision and terminated the OROP which deliver the status of One Rank One Pension to simmer. In 1973 with the upcoming of the third pay commission the government took the following decisions :
- Increased the pension of civilians from 30 to 50 percent.
- Reduced the pension of Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) by 20 percent.
- The mandatory service for full pension was reduced to 25 years. As soldiers in 1973 retired after 15 years service, at the age of 33-36, they got less than 30 percent of the pay as a pension.
- Soldiers pension was decreased by 40 percent from 70 to 30 percent.
- The government in addition to downgrading military pensions downgraded the status of the soldier by equating “infantry soldier with less than three years’ service” with a “semi-skilled/unskilled labour”.
To address the growing anomaly, the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement was started in 2008. It led to a massive hunger strike in 2009. As a mark of protest, many ex-servicemen returned their medals and awards to the President of India. Even, the Supreme Court of India urged the government to address the case sympathetically. In 2010, the Parliament examined OROP for retired servicemen and a Rajya Sabha Committee named Koshyari Committee was constituted for the examination of pension of the Armed Forces Personnel.
Koshyari Committee Report on One Rank One Pension
A 10 member panel was constituted under the leadership of Bhagat Singh Koshyari to examine the intricacies of OROP. The “Koshyari Committee Report” undoubtedly found that the demands of Armed Forces Personnel for OROP are justified and should be upheld. The Committee laid down the definition of OROP as “uniform pension be paid to armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancements in the rate of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”
This concise explanation was accepted by the veterans and the government and is regarded as the basis for the demands of ex-servicemen’s. Unlike the civilian administration where the retirement age is 60 years, defence administration restricts the age bar at around 40 years. At the time of retirement when family obligations are on the head, the ex-servicemen have no source of income which ultimately makes the family vulnerable. Also, coming from such a background where the nature of work and skills are restricted to a particular field, finding a job in civil areas looks like a herculean task.
Judicial Pronouncements on One Rank One Pension
The basic underlying principle behind One Rank One Pension is the violation of the “Fundamental Right to Equality”. Right to Equality is enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution which states that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” The contention was that an officer of higher rank who retired earlier got lesser income as compared to another officer of the lower rank who retired later, as he saw a gradual increase in the pension which was a result of the subsequent Pay Commissions. Therefore, it resulted in inequality among the two officers violating there right of equal pay for equal work that is there fundamental right to equality.
In D.S. Nakara & others v. Union of India, the court held that “pension is neither a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer. It is not an ex-gratia payment but it is a payment for the past service rendered. Pension is a social welfare measure rendering socio-economic justice to those who in the heyday of their life ceaselessly toiled for the employer on an assurance that in their old age they would not be left in a lurch.”
The Ministry of Finance was of the view that granting One Rank One Pension will also generate the same kind of demands from the non-military personnel also. The abovementioned view, of the Ministry of Finance, however, is incoherent with Article 14, as it “permits reasonable classification, but is not in favour of class legislation”. Nature of job and work conditions of armed forces and civilian employees are highly different and thus, combining these two classes exclusively for the purpose of distribution of pension is violative of Article 14. Koshyari Committee was of a similar view that, the job conditions of armed forces and civilian employees were altogether different. Armed forces come under the purview of “Court Martial System” that instil military order, exposure to danger, indefinite working hours, uncertainty of life and above all they are subject to restricted fundamental rights.
Furthermore, in the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the doctrine of Intelligible Differentia was elucidated stating that, “Article 14 strikes at arbitrariness in State action and ensures fairness and equality of treatment. The principle of reasonableness, which logically as well as philosophically, is an essential element of equality or non-arbitrariness, pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence.”
Hurdles in Implementation of One Rank One Pension
The foundational argument for implementing the OROP is that every nation needs a “young army” which means soldiers need to retire early. Civilian servants continue to serve till the age of 60, a soldier retires at an age much earlier than a civilian. A civilian might seek 3 or 4 pay commissions in his service and a soldier at best only seek 2 pay commission in his service. So, the last salary drawn by the soldier will be much lesser than the last salary drawn by a civilian.
Therefore, it financially impinges the same person who joined the government office at the same time but for no reason or for no choice is forced to leave the service much earlier. Thus, it is not financially beneficial for the veteran. Also, people who retire early do not find many options outside. There is an absence of lateral absorption in government jobs after service. So there is a moral obligation which the government holds towards these veterans.
Lost in the emotional sentiments the government even after promising and setting aside budget for OROP is unable to properly implement the scheme. The ever-increasing pension liability hits the Defence Sector robustly. It is an administrative challenge for the authorities to trace the records by going back to decades. Above all, the biggest hurdle is the financial hurdle which for all reasons looks inescapable.
Impact of OROP on Financial Budget of India
OROP is a subject of Public Policy and comes within the ambit of “executive policymaking”. It surpassingly impacts the financial status of the country. Setting aside a hefty amount from the budget is a tough task for the ministry. The financial hurdle was estimated to be 8000-10000 crore rupees which will further increase on the revision of every salary.
The Koshyari Committee observed that the financial liability of OROP for the year 2011-2012 is Rs.1300 crores. The committee observed that this is not a big amount for a country having such a big economy and size. The committee significantly contemplated the fact that Rs.1300 Crores is the budget for one year, and it may increase at a rate of 10% per year, yet, it is an acceptable amount considering the financial budget of the nation.
Current Status of One Rank One Pension
The present NDA government has accepted the formula of OROP and has already released Rs. 5500 crores to serve the purpose, but still, the demands from the veterans side seem innumerable.
Pensions will be refined for all pensioners retiring in the same rank as an average of the minimum and maximum pensions in 2013.
Veterans want the maximum to be taken as the base.
The Government wanted the OROP system to be applicable from 1 July 2014 and 2013 will be base year.
Veterans want the OROP system to be effective from 1 April 2014 and 2015 will be base year.
The Government proposed a review every 5 years.
Veterans want an annual review.
Conclusion & Suggestions
One Rank One Pension is the long-standing pension reforms demand of the Indian Armed Forces. Veterans see OROP as a stepping stone for their beneficial future. It will not only help the veterans but also help their family members to have a stable future. Since the veterans retire at a critical age, the pension benefits will act as a catalyst for them. Serving the Armed Forces where every day they are exposed to so many life threats, keeping their interest at a paramount level should be the primary task of the government.
The Indian administration has a history of slowish modernization and the concept of One Rank One Pension still seems to be unimplemented. The resources are scarce but the desires and wants of people are unlimited and therefore bureaucrats and military personnel find it difficult to arrive at a common objective. It will thus be interesting to see what will happen in future discourse.