Should OROP Agitation Continue or Wind Up?

“I believe that OROP issue is no longer an issue involving military; it is slowly but surely taking shape of a political movement. If and when it happens, it would be a national disaster.


Should OROP Agitation Continue or Wind Up?

Backdrop

In the backdrop of a letter written by Gp Capt TP Srivastava (Retd) to IESM Chairman Maj Gen Satbir Singh, proposing the movement to be called off for it having lost its apolitical character, this debate was initiated. Gp Capt Srivastava cited several reasons in his letter, relevant extracts of which are reproduced below to enable the reader to grasp the main crux issues of OROP that led him to justify why the OROP agitation should be wound up unconditionally.

Based on the contents of the letter several Veterans of the three services were requested to send their honest and forthright views if the OROP agitation should continue or wind up as advocated by Gp Capt Srivastava. The debate is in the form of an article, where views for and against the proposition have been obtained and attributed to the concerned Veteran respondents.

The reason behind carrying such an article is to foster a healthy debate on such matters of military management, and gleaning workable solutions for the benefit of the armed forces and the nation at large. It is hoped that this exercise produces a remedy that settles this intractable dispute, which seems to be turning into an impasse.

Trigger

Relevant Extracts of Gp Capt TP Srivastava’s letter to Gen Satbir Singh

“I believe that OROP issue is no longer an issue involving military; it is slowly but surely taking shape of a political movement. If and when it happens, it would be a national disaster. Military must remain apolitical and loyal to the government in power not on the basis of pre-poll promises made by political parties…Unfortunately this cardinal principle was broken by both major political parties, BJP and Congress…Indian politicians have no love for the military because institution of military cannot serve and support their nefarious activities.

“…Numerous articles, chats, views of all and sundry are openly talking about not voting for BJP/NDA in the forthcoming elections in 2019 primarily because current government failed to implement OROP in Toto. Current government led by Shri Narendra Modi started implementation of OROP with few modifications to the original concept…unacceptable to Military.

There has been a quantum and many fold rise in the pension of military personnel during the past decade, primarily due to implementation of VIth and VIth pay commission recommendations. Most of these increments have been during post 2015 period.

“The OROP agitation commenced to force the government to implement OROP as contained in Koshiyari committee report. Nearly three years have gone by and the issue remains on the boil… neither in national interest nor in the interest of Military. Out of the ten Agenda points for proposed rally on 13th May, 2018 in Maj Gen Satbir’s letter nine points do not concern OROP.  Indeed all points merit a look into but not by retired military personnel. It is the job of Serving Chiefs to look into each issue and take it up with the government.”

“We are making a mess of the OROP issue by mixing it up other issues… attempting to create a parallel organization. Let the Service HQs do their job. Highest court of the country is already seized of the issue. Satbir, you have accomplished what many failed to accomplish… carry this as a reward from the almighty, who gave you the courage and wisdom to lead from front.”

“A word for PM, FM and RM. Onus lies squarely on all three of you, individually and collectively, to resolve the issue amicably…so that the undesirable agitation does not affect national power…Military personnel are…requesting/demanding what is due to them. FM’s intransigence is evident as he refuses to accept annual revision as against five yearly revision.”

Veterans' Responses (For)

Maj Gen VK Madhok (Retd), 1st Course JSW/NDA

I was commissioned in the Indian Army after 4 years training at JSW and IMA Dehradun in the early 1950s. The salary at the end of 40 years of service was pittance compared to what has been paid since 01 Jan 06 with implementation of 6CPC. 7CPC further enhanced the pay of military personnel from 01 Jan 16. Since the pension paid to veterans is only 50% of last pay drawn depending on the operative CPC of that time, there was a vast difference of pensions between military pensioners who retired in the same rank with same length of service.

Hence this led to an unfair deal by the consecutive governments to create a vast disparity in pension scales of Veterans of same rank and service.

Despite representations for more pension to match the prevailing cost of living, the governments failed to meet their minimum expectations leading to further frustration amongst the entire pre-1996 lot. The present BJP government in their pre-election campaign promised the Veterans to grant them OROP to remove the wide gulf in pension scales between pre and post-2016 pensioners of same rank and service.

However this promise was not destined to be fulfilled. However due to the exemplary leadership of Maj Gen Satbir Singh and his dedicated group of ex-servicemen, the OROP agitation compelled the government to relent and half-heartedly grant OROP. In this country, politicians and bureaucrats are hand in glove and have no love lost for the soldiers. Hence, the soldier can only get their justified demands met only through peaceful agitation.

I for one and many more like me would not have got increased pension had it not been for the OROP agitation. The agitation must continue and take up more justified demands for the pensioners and the serving fraternity too. Advice to call off the agitation and cancel the planned 13 May 2018 rally must not be paid heed to. The BJP government must not be trusted to meet any further demands of ex-servicemen. A united organisation led by Gen Satbir Singh must be strongly supported.

Wg Cdr SP Singh (Retd)

I fully support the views expressed by Maj Gen VK Madhok and one should not object any individual’s effort just for the sake of objecting. Must support with fact and figures. By giving OROP has the government become any poorer? On the contrary, lakhs of ESM have been benefitted. If we are hell bent on objecting, then we should object to government policies where people run away to other countries after taking thousands of crores of rupees as loans, waiving off crores of bad loans of PSUs.

Brig SK Kakar (Retd), ex-EME

Immediately after 1971, the pension for soldiers, which was 75% and 33% for civilians, was brought at par to 50% for all government employees without going into the divergent terms of conditions and younger retirement age bracket of 35-45 years for majority of soldiers, in comparison to 60 years for all civilians. This is the genesis of the issue that triggered the prolonged tussle. This issue has also adversely affected war widows, disabled soldiers and dependents of martyrs.

Some Veterans feel that after one OROP pension hike, two earlier hikes and implementation of 7 CPC, the pensions have increased substantially. Hence, do not feel or advocate the need to continue the OROP agitation. In simple words OROP means, 3-5 % increase every year. Presently there is a big disparity of Rs 4000 in the pension of soldiers who retired in 2003 and in 2017.

For a soldier, his widow and dependents, this amount is quite large. A Jawan with 17 years of service is losing Rs 4296 every month. A widow is losing Rs 2548 every month. The pension has been fixed as Average of Maximum and Minimum of rank and service and number of years served as basis for a pensioner. The increments earned by the serving person are ‘not’ taken into account, thus affecting the correct fixation of Pension.

The majority of officers, especially those who retired after 01Jan 06, have by and large benefitted from the increase in their pensions and hence feel satisfied. These officers need to comprehend the plight of over 80% majority of the pensioners, the OR fraternity, including NCOs, who still haven't received OROP as per its true definition. The strength of officers is approx 3-4 %. The strength of JCOs is about 13-14%. Balance strength of NCOs and OR is about 80%. Hence, the imperative need to continue the OROP agitation.

The Reddy Commission on the 7 CPC anomalies has given its recommendations to the government over a year back but not being made public. The OROP team has clarified that they have only used the platform of political parties because they were denied audience by RM, MoD and PMO. The Veterans have not yet accepted back the medals that they handed over.

Col Avinash Wandkar (Retd), ex-Signals

There were several shortcomings in the sanctioned OROP scales, especially for the majority Other Ranks (OR) category (from Sepoy to Havaldar rank). The implementation of the 7CPC further complicated the OROP and led to adding more demands and representations for a better deal for the military fraternity vis-a-vis their civil counterparts, as per OROP definition of the Koshiary Committee. This strong majority of OR fraternity feel betrayed.

An objective comparison of their pay scales, allowances and terms of service and retirement age with the Civil Services and even Para military forces will amply reveal that they have always received a raw deal. The OROP agitation apparently represents not only the ex-servicemen but the serving fraternity too, as all serving personnel will sooner or later also be ex-servicemen.

Hence, what is granted to the pensioners will positively or negatively impact the serving personnel too. Hence, the OROP agitation under Maj Gen Satbir Singh must continue till they achieve their set aim and objective.

Veterans’ Responses (Against)

Maj Jawahar Thota (Retd), ex-Artillery

I agree with the letter written by Gp Capt TP Srivastava. The services start off by guarding the borders, the coastline and the airspace, which is their primary task, and then take on flood relief, helping out during natural disasters, contain and battle terrorism on a daily basis and in return we ask for nothing. It is just OROP and respect for the uniformed. The money spent on OROP is a negligible fraction of the GDP, in comparison to the trillions that people stash away underground and run away with.

A government, if it honors and respects it’s soldiers, will not humiliate us in this way, by denying what we deserve. It will be gratifying to see if the government hands in the balance without the planned OROP on 20 May, 2018. It is time the country separated politics from the patriotism and sacrifice by those who fight for the security of the country and keep the national flag fluttering even in nil wind conditions. Veterans should not be humiliated and forced to do what they are doing at Jantar Mantar. Instead the nation's voice should reverberate with: “Thank you for your service. Welcome home. Be at peace.”

Col Rajinder Kushwaha (Retd), ex-CO 3 Bihar

I am of the opinion that one must distinguish between just demand and ambitious project. OROP is no more an issue to lose your sleep for. Fact remains that 80% objective has been achieved and rest 20% can be achieved through other forums available. As far as NFU and other details of OROP/7CPC are concerned, they are being tackled in the courts, in which Gen Satbir has no role.

Finally, to say PM Modi had backed out of his promise is unjustified. And to think he gave it out of pressure that had been exerted by Gen Satbir and the agitation is a gross misrepresentation of facts. When PM Modi promised OROP at Rewari in Sept 2013, he did not understand the full financial implications of OROP, until he took over. He became cautious, yet he gave us 80% of what we wanted.

I think we should adopt different approach to get 20% and stop falling prey to political parties who wants to misuse us. For 40 years Congress did not do anything and now it wants to become champion if our cause through Gen Satbir and company. It is best avoidable.

Gp Capt Johnson Chacko (Retd)

There is a Grade known as Higher Administrative Grade Plus or HAG+ where the pension is based on ‘Revised Pay’ and not on ‘Last Drawn Pay’. I believe that all the C-in-Cs and equivalent and Chiefs fall into this category. It means that whenever the pay is ‘revised’, they get an increment in pension as of the person retiring that day.  If it is so, then the top most hierarchy may never fight for OROP as this is actually OROP. Doesn’t matter what the Koshiyari Committee says.

Hence, the top most hierarchy cannot be motivated to look after this aspect of those placed below them. It undermines the principles of leadership. Cost of living is supposed to be compensated by Dearness Relief for pensioners. It does not neutralize it fully. That is proven by the fact that when a new Pay Commission is implemented the pension for similar service and rank is higher.

This difference is what needs to be bridged. If the rule is changed to base pension on Revised Pay, OROP issue will be resolved. The money involved will be nowhere near the NPAs of banks that we are grappling with. A small price to pay for a stronger India.

Col Pradeep Dalvi (Retd), ex-Mech Inf

I thank Maj Gen Satbir Singh and his team for their untiring efforts. Without their efforts, the pre-1996 pensioners would not have got their increase in pension. The agitation has met most of its goals and the balance should be achieved through other means and pursuit by serving fraternity. The saddest part of the OROP agitation was the manhandling of Veterans by the police.

Lack of response from the serving hierarchy enabled the political masters to lower the image of armed forces in the society. This must never happen again. The remaining issues of OROP can be resolved through 7CPC and recommendations of the Reddy Committee.

Many Veterans have now become more aware to obtain their justified demands and even dragging the government to courts. Ironically, the same Veterans, especially the senior lot, who served during 1975-2000 period, failed to take up these legitimate issues, while serving with the then Congress government.

With 2019 elections now being round the corner, the Veterans must remain apolitical, maintain military dignity, and not be permitted to use the OROP platform for their personal agenda or political ambition. The May 2018 meeting agenda contains issues that are not related to OROP and hence should be taken up with the government by the Service Chiefs. Finally, the OROP agitation must be wound up before it turns counter-productive.

Col CM Chavan (Retd), ex-AAD

There are two schools of thought emerging at this point of time. First, should pressure be put on the present government to fulfill the balance of OROP issues, which we deserve rightfully, especially in view of the forthcoming elections? Second, since the present government has at least given 80% of OROP which no government could do and be content with a hope that the issues will get settled in due course of time, as the matter is already seized by the highest court.

Putting pressure by coming on the roads with our issues at this opportune time would indicate the political swing of the Veterans, even if that is not the intent. It also shows us in the poor light when the entire world is in awe of the PM. At the same time, it also goes to the credit of Maj Gen Satbir that we got the major chunk of OROP. Having said that, however, most of the points in present agenda of agitation are not related to OROP. As brought out by Gp Capt TP Srivastav, all these points fall under the care of Chiefs.

Going ahead intelligently would be better to gather in large number on 13 May and declare that the Veterans would like to entrust the present government to resolve balance of the OROP issues in amicable time bound manner and return home. This will display solidarity and appeal to the government to consider the matter sincerely and possibly turn out to be a win-win situation for both.

Col PK ‘Royal’ Mehrishi (Retd), ex-Sikh LI

OROP is akin to a dead issue now with only the carcass remaining for the opportunistic vultures to feed. Strong cognitive imagery but the lesson underlying it is clear. No doubt Gen Satbir Singh led from the front and became a rallying point for many but some of our own with deep rooted political ambitions axed the initiative by pushing their own agenda & hijacking the forum to build a parallel narrative to suit their political masters.

The purity of the movement was lost when one witnessed retired Generals squabbling in public and trying to outdo each other for that extra sound byte. Such movements lose steam after sometime when the “way ahead” has not been thought through in detail (so much for planning by ex-military stalwarts). Nadir was, when the Delhi Police (DP) forcibly evicted aging Veterans from Jantar Mantar before the RD parade.

The irony of this could not be missed, on the Rajpath some of these Veterans in their younger days may have led Contingents/Military Equipment/Squadrons with badges on their chests with pride, and here was a situation where a force like DP, perceived to be corrupt and inefficient was seen roughing up old Veterans, the image that went viral amongst serving and retired fraternity was of an old NCO with his torn kurta and medals hanging precariously for want of a modicum of deserved dignity and respect.

Why wasn’t this scenario thought through? Many aging Veterans and their better halves were seen pleading with constables of DP to behave and accord respect, which of course was not provided. The then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley chose to keep silent, and our serving tigers and lions (nice sounding aggressive titles for appointments) like over-obedient circus animals did not even roar at any ring master.

The foremost nationalist institution, the military, has over the years been eroded of its status by a self-serving political class (ever heard of a self-proclaimed 100% increase in pay and allowances) and a servile bureaucracy. The issues regarding the military can only get resolved when the serving top “honchos” once in a while rattle the sabre in its sheath. Since the military is not a vote bank or a political lobby, (rightly so) the only way forward is a dynamic vision by the persons selected to sit on the high table at the Commanders Conferences in Delhi.

Cdr Ravindra Waman Pathak (Retd), ex-Member, IESM Governing Body

The IESM led a successful agitation to force the government to announce OROP. What was announced was not the OROP as per definition given by Koshiyari Committee and accepted by government. The agitation continued even after announcement of OROP and the government agreed to look into the balance of grievances by appointing the One Man Judicial Committee (OMJC). Frankly the agitation should have ended then.

Once the OMJC was announced all parties made their presentation before it and the report is now in cold storage with the government for over a year now. The IESM also decided to take the matter of OROP to court and filed a case. Hereafter any agitation is meaningless for seeking full OROP. The agitation has lost its meaning moment the OMJC was appointed and further lost its meaning when IESM went to court.

We are at a deadlock at this stage as IESM has annoyed the government and closed all doors to any talks. He has further complicated the matter by his political games of hopping with parties. Even if this party hopping is seen as building pressure it is not going to work as it did in 2014. The ground realities are different.

The very fact that Veterans are losing as a result of not having got the full OROP is reason enough to call of the agitation specially, since it affects a large number of JCO and below Veterans and start a dialogue with the government. The agitation is simply compounding the loss month on month. The denial of talk was a result of adamant attitude of the IESM in continuing agitation mode. Incidentally, the Veterans must also understand what they have gained by whatever OROP orders that have been issued so far.

The way ahead would be to call off whatever the current form of agitation is going on at JM, even after some internal doubts within the IESM governing body to continue with the same. Then approach the government for talks on the subject and press for action on OMJC. The situation now is same as in pre-2014 era and despite the bravado, the BJP will need Veterans support as in 2014.

It would be in the interest of all if IESM calls of the remnant of the agitation which is only an irritant value now and engage the BJP and government on actual issues.

Conclusion

The Veterans are almost equally divided in their views on the continuation of the OROP agitation. One section feels it should be called off and the other feels that it should continue till the 20% balance of OROP is granted as per the definition of Koshiyari Committee. However, one common point of agreement is seen, that 80% OROP was granted to the military pensioners largely due to sustained efforts and perseverance of the OROP agitation spearheaded by Maj Gen Satbir Singh.

The scheduled OROP rally at Jantar Mantar now postponed to 20 May 2018 and subsequent events would surely indicate which course of action was a better proposition.

(This debate was published in the May '18 issue of the Fauji India Magazine and compiled by Mission Victory India Founder & Director Col. Vinay B Dalvi. He can be reached on Twitter: @vinaybaliram, Email ID: col.vinay.dalvi@gmail.com, colonelvinaydalvi@missionvictoryindia.com.Views expressed are the respondents own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)

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