Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saga of One Rank One Pension

After Independence and the installation of a democratic National Government, consideration of loyalty and devotion to duty were cast aside over the monetary considerations. As a result, the grants, pensions and other concessions for those killed in action or wounded in war fell so miserably low that it almost amounted to Soldiers' families being thrown out on the streets. The Soldiers did not realise the impact till the J & K operations were over in 1949.

Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh, in his Book, ' The Liberation of Bangladesh' narrates the following incident. I quote,
"Lt Col (later Maj Gen) Rawind Singh Grewal, who had received a machine gun burst straight in his stomach and leg in J & K operations, was hospitalised for a period longer than stipulated for the retention of acting rank and was brought down to his substantive rank of Captain after 28 days. This officer is said to have walked up to Cariappa, then Chief, and pointing to his scars, said: "Sir, do you think I got these wounds for the benefit of my health? The reward for risking my life for the sake of my country has been loss of rank and pay. Trust me to fight for you again. Goodbye, Sir."

Cariappa and other successive Chiefs were well aware of the problems of maintaining the morale of the fighting men under such circumstances. But nothing substantial could be achieved against the callous attitude of money conscious Politicians & the hide-bound bureaucracy. The 1950s saw the period of our National Policy of trimming the Armed Forces, under the Nehru Doctrine. The year 1962 awakened the Nation to reality. But, after the Chinese debacle, no Chief could have strongly demanded for the Pay Hike. The opportunity rose after our performance in 1965, War against Pakistan. But, the initiative ended with a few State Govts distributing some grants & awards to the soldiers belonging to their States. After this operation, the AHQ carried out a study and found out that in Sino Indian Conflict 1962 and Indo Pak conflict 1965, the Indian soldier was successively taking fewer risks under fire. The old Soldier was fading out and with him the sense of loyalty and duty. The new Soldier was brought up on the fast changing value of Rupees. He being the sole bread winner of his family, naturally and justifiably his domestic responsibility weighed more on him.

The reason was not far to seek. Take the case of Gunner Arumugam from the Artillery. After the end of his colour Service of seven years in 1961, he was sent home, without pension. He was recalled to active Service in 1962, since he had a reserve liability of eight years. After the Chinese war, in 1964 he was again sent home. He was recalled to active service again, in 1965, fought the Indo Pak War. He was finally discharged in 1966, without pension since he did not complete 15 years of continuous service to earn the minimum pension.

The Nation had utilised the Services of a Jawan, in the most economic way, without an iota of shame. After braving the enemy bullets in two wars, the Jawan was sent home, literally, to beg on the streets. Leave the Politicians and Bureaucrats alone. What did our own establishment, consisting of Officers who were commissioned under the oath of Chetwode do? It was a pity that the Senior Officers in those days, (not any different from the present day), chose to put the blame on the Government and the regulations made by it. Not a single case was taken up with the Government to revisit the Pension regulations for the Army, in view of extra ordinary circumstances of Jawans like Gunner Arumugam or Lt Col GS Grewal and scores of others. They could have been granted pension or retention of their acting ranks as special cases. Even the Courts of Law would have up held their cases for justice. But, our own hierarchy found it fit to keep silent.

Since Sam Manekshaw, in 1971, stood his ground and refused to launch his Offensive against East Pakistan in March 1971 itself, he had sufficient time to address the problems of the soldiers' sagging morale. His aim was to ensure that every soldier went to battle, fully assured that the Nation would look after the welfare of his family, even if he lost his life, or wounded or missing or taken as PW, during the war.

With his initiative and clout over the then Prime Minister, a slew of benefits were announced, some of which had far reaching effect. Special consideration for the War widows, who were encouraged to start new lives by remarrying without the loss of pension benefits, 75 % of the basic pay sanctioned to them as Pension, liberalised disability pensions etc., ensured that the Soldiers went into 1971 War with a better frame of mind and morale. It was unfortunate that the proverb "God and Soldiers are remembered only during calamities" proved right once again.

The Third CPC, belied the expectation of the Armed Forces. That also after its glorious victory in 1971. Unfortunately, Sam was no more in the Chair. Not that it would have made any difference against the bureaucratic zeal of gaining the parity in Pay & Pension with the Armed Forces.

The major blame for this debacle should be shared by the Officers of the Armed Forces, who were blissfully ignorant of what was happening to their own Rank & File. Those were the days when every Officer was told that the CDA(O) would look after all their pay & allowances problems. Hardly any discussion, even as a matter of education, was held about the CPCs & their misdemeanor.

Below is a relevant extract of the Memorandum, submitted by the IESM, to the Committee of the Rajya Saba. (An excellently drafted piece and our complements to the team headed by Lt Gen Raj Kadyan and backed by Maj Gen Satbir Singh, Col RP Chaturvedi and Hony Capt K Pandey). I quote :-

Civilianisation of Military Pensions
As long as the Armed Forces remained out of the purview of the National Central Pay Commissions (CPC), the existing structure continued. Military pensions continued to be higher than that of the other Central Government employees. The government however decided to bring the Defence Forces under the purview of CPCs starting from the 3rd CPC. That the conditions of service and the terms of reference for the Defence Forces were very much different was ignored. Ironically, it happened in 1973, just after the country had won a major war that led to the creation of Bangladesh. The 3rd CPC rerecorded that pension should be treated as a standby in times of adversity. The financial weightages done away with and was replaced by an arbitrary weightage of years of service to compensate for the truncated career of defence forces employees. The fact that most JCOs and below left after initial engagement/ colour service without pension was not addressed. (It was left to Shri Jagjivan Ram to later extend the service to 15 years and make it pensionable). The impact of this move on the shortages of recruitment was immediately felt.

The 3rd CPC in order to civilianise the Military pensions, related pension to last pay drawn (LPD) as a percentage rather than relating to rank as heretofore had been done. The cadre and pay structure wherein defence personnel moved much more slowly to reach higher ranks/pay scales was totally overlooked. This resulted in Military pensions falling way behind their civilian counterparts, not withstanding the weightage in years given for truncated career.
The Defence Forces were palpably upset. Therefore, the government appointed a committee under KP Singh Deo, MOS (Defence) to look into the ‘Non Effective Benefits of ESM Pensioners’. The Committee recommended that service pensions/retiring pensions should revert to being rank-based. In fact it went one step ahead; Service pensions should not only be rank-based but all vintages of pensioners should receive the same quantum of pension. A new term was thus coined namely One Rank One Pension (OROP). The government announced in the Lok Sabha that it had accepted 26 of the Committee’s recommendations barring one, namely on OROP which it was examining for implementation. KP Singh Deo Committee’s view was that Military pensions as these existed prior to 3rd CPC should be restored. Since Rank played a very important role in the military, reflected its ethos and is allowed to be retained as per our Constitution ever after retirement, pensions had to be rank-based. Every substantive officer, JCO and others should receive the pension of the rank held on retirement irrespective of their vintage and date of retirement. Besides, the pensions also had to be periodically enhanced and updated.
Veteran Raman

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