After retired servicemen spent three years litigating over one rank one pension (OROP) in the Supreme Court, an Order was finally passed on May 1 for the Union 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.” Despite three years of litigation, according to the Supreme Court website, there were only 13 entries with the heading ‘Record of Proceedings’ (ROP), which would indicate around 13 hearings in three years.
The retired servicemen’s petition in the Supreme Court referenced the minutes of a meeting in February 2014 chaired by the Defence Minister where 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.”
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The petition then referred to a letter from November 2011, written by the Joint Secretary of Ex-Servicemen Welfare in the Ministry of Defence to the three service chiefs which then 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 is really where the crux of the petition lies to the extent that the Ministry of Defence has distorted the meaning of OROP. Wherein the original definition envisioned automatic bridging, the new definition implies periodic bridging at intervals. The point here is firstly, what period of time will constitute one interval? Further, will this lead to creating a class within a class?
The distorted definition of OROP will invariably lead to situation where retired servicemen will have to wait for the expiry of an interval before receiving their enhanced pension. This will also raise questions regarding the payment of arrears, i.e. whether they will be entitled to arrears, and from which point will the arrears be calculated.
The Third Central Pay Commission submitted its report in 1973, and almost immediately, there was opposition against its implementation vis-à-vis the armed forces. Volume III of the report sought to de-link military service conditions from military pensions and treat defence pensions as that of Indian Police Service (IPS) officers. Further, the Third Central Pay Commission did away with OROP with the result that defence pensions were ‘frozen’ at the time of retirement.
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In 2008, the OROP protests began with ex-servicemen returning their medals after the pension benefits and pay scale for civil servants was suddenly enhanced. Incidentally, that year the Supreme Court delivered a Judgement in an appeal filed by the Union Government in 2006. The matter concerned a situation where a high-ranking officer received a pension lower than that of a subordinate ranking officer. In this particular case of Union of Indian v. SPS Vains, the Supreme Court observed;
“On behalf of the appellant, Union of India, it has been sought to be contended that since the pay scale of those officers who had retired prior to 1.1.96 had already been fixed at the time of their retirement, the question of refixation of their pay scales on account of the revision could not be accepted as they would only be entitled to the benefits of higher pension on account of such revision. The learned Additional Solicitor General, Mr. Vikas Singh, had contended that since an anomaly had been created in the pension payable to officers of the rank of Major Generals, who on account of the revision of pay scales were receiving less pension than Brigadiers who were lower in rank, the Government had stepped up the pension of Major Generals who had retired prior to 1.1.1996, so that they did not receive pension less than what was given to officers of the rank of Brigadier.
The said decision of the Central Government does not address the problem of a disparity having created within the same class so that two officers both retiring as Major Generals, one prior to 1.1.1996 and the other after 1.1.1996, would get two different amounts of pension. While the officers who retired prior to 1.1.1996 would now get the same pension as payable to a Brigadier on account of the stepping up of pension in keeping with the Fundamental Rules, the other set of Major Generals who retired after 1.1.1996 will get a higher amount of pension since they would be entitled to the benefit of the revision of pay scales after 1.1.1996.
In our view, it would be arbitrary to allow such a situation to continue since the same also offends the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution.”
In principle, the 2008 decision affirmed OROP as fair. In 2010, Parliament examined OROP for retired servicemen and a Rajya Sabha Committee was set up. In 2011, the Koshyari Committee Report on Petition Praying for Grant of One Rank One Pension to the Armed Forces Personnel referred to the reluctance of the concerned ministries to accord OROP as “a typical example of bureaucratic apathy”. The Report had unequivocally found that the demand for OROP was justified and ought to be granted. One of the reasons highlighted was that unlike in the civil services, where the retirement age is 60, the retirement age of defence services personnel is roughly around the age of 40. This is also the age when family responsibilities increase as school fees need to be paid and food put on the table. Further, due to the nature of defence work and the skills involved, the retired servicemen have few employment options in civilian life.
Despite a tacit affirmation from the Supreme Court in 2008 and an overt recommendation from a Parliamentary Committee in 2011, the matter of OROP has not been put to rest. Further, the present government, in its election campaign in 2014, had claimed that they would implement OROP. Yet, they arbitrarily tried to shift the goalpost resulting in litigation. The next hearing will be on August 6.
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