A response from the Minister of Defence, Rajnath Singh, with regard to a starred question in the Lok Sabha on June 26, ought to ease all concerns about the ‘one rank one pension’ (OROP) demand of ex-servicemen. However, if one were to look at the status of the petition in the Supreme Court regarding this matter, there appears to be an anomaly regarding the appointment of a committee to look into the grievances of the retired servicemen.
The response from the Defence Minister is particularly interesting regarding questions (c), (d) and (e) in question 68.
“(c) whether there is some resentment among the ex-servicemen with the present model of the scheme and if so, the details thereof;
(d) the details of steps taken for holding negotiation with them and steps taken/being taken by the Government for redressing the issue; and
(e) the aim of setting up of Justice Narasimha Reddy Commission for OROP along with the main recommendations of the Commission and their implementation/status thereof;”
In his response to question (c) and (d), the Defence Minister stated;
“Some Ex-Servicemen Associations have been demanding changes in methodology for fixation of pension, periodicity of its revision etc. The Government appointed One Member Judicial Committee (OMJC) on OROP on 14.12.2015 to look into anomalies, if any, arising out of implementation of OROP.”
As for question (e), the Defence Minister stated;
“The Government appointed One Member Judicial Committee (OMJC) on OROP on 14.12.2015 under Justice Narasimha Reddy to look into anomalies, if any, arising out of implementation. The Committee was to take into account the financial impact of its recommendations. The Committee submitted its Report on 26.10.2016. An Internal Committee has been constituted by the Government to examine the recommendations of OMJC with respect to feasibility and financial aspects. The matter is under examination of this internal Committee.”
Also Read | OROP Not in Sight Yet After 3 Years of Litigation
On May 1, a bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Hemant Gupta passed an order which stated;
“At this stage, we are of the considered view that it would be appropriate if the Union government scrutinizes the grievances which are placed before the Court in the above note. It would be appropriate and in the interest of justice if these concerns, which have been expressed on behalf of personnel, who have served the nation as members of the Armed Forces of the Union before retirement, are duly considered by the Union government at an appropriate level.
We would expect the government to seriously consider the grievances and to determine whether and, if so, to what extent, justice can be provided for the satisfaction of all concerned.”
The grievances of the retired personnel referred to by the court in simple terms means the implementation of the Koshiyari Committee’s recommendations. In 2011, the Koshiyari Committee Report on Petition Praying for Grant of One Rank One Pension to the Armed Forces Personnel described the government’s reluctance to grant OROP as “a typical example of bureaucratic apathy”. The report had found the demand of the retired servicemen for OROP as justified and that it ought to be granted.
What also emerged in the report as a strong reason for implementing OROP is that unlike in the civil services, where the retirement age is 60, the retirement age of defence services personnel is roughly the age of 40. At this age, most people are already married and with children. Having to earn for a family becomes an imperative when one has to pay for school fees and feed and clothe one’s family members. The problem is heightened when one considers the job opportunities in civilian life for those possessing skills learnt in the Army.
Also See | #IndiaUnites: Dharna Kicks off with Voices of Dissent from Ex-Servicemen and SC-ST Organisations
In February 2014, in a meeting chaired by the Defence Minister, OROP was defined as; “One Rank One Pension (OROP) implies that uniform pension 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 to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pension of the current pensioners and the past pensioners and also of future enhancements in the rate of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”
However, a letter written in 2011 by the Joint Secretary of Ex-Servicemen Welfare in the Ministry of Defence to the three service chiefs, defined OROP as a uniform payment of pension to retired servicemen “retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of the date of retirement , which implies bridging the gap between the rates of pension of current and past pensioners at periodic intervals.” This ‘tweaked’ definition has led to the ongoing litigation.
What is interesting is that the Defence Minister in his reply to Parliament has not referred to the May 1 Order in his response. Further, the Justice Narasimha Reddy Committee was set up on December 14, 2015 and submitted its report on October 26 the following year. For almost three years, the matter has been stuck with an internal committee which is looking over the contents of the Justice Reddy committee’s report. In this regard one ought to wonder whether the government is violating an Order of the Supreme Court.
Also Read | #IndiaUnites Joint Agitation Launched Against Modi Government