The demand for one rank, one pension (OROP) has been in the air for over 40 years. There is a sense of urgency to it now as promises seem to have crystallised into some action with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that OROP reform has been accepted in principle and that only work on the modalities remains. With the Prime Minister reiterating the Centre’s commitment in his Independence Day speech, the clamour has risen to a fever pitch for time-bound delivery.
Demonstrations that are gaining ground as well as threats of fasts unto death have further complicated an issue that impacts the lives of more than two million ex-servicemen as well as more than half a million war widows. The seeking of parity in pensions between those who retired in more recent times and those who superannuated much earlier in the same rank is a fair demand as inflation and the rapidly rising cost of living in recent years have eaten into the pensions. Sharp anomalies were brought about after the Third Pay Commission decided to raise the pensions of those who were in civilian services to equate them with the pensions of ex-servicemen in 1973.
The principle of rewarding bravery in the line of duty was being well served when the pensions for service in the armed forces was higher than that of people in the civil services, but the disproportionate influence of bureaucrats has been the root cause of the anomalous situation when the pensions were equalised over 40 years ago. Normally, the demand for OROP should have granted long ago if not for the huge outlays involved. Estimates vary widely in how much OROP would cost the nation now — about Rs 8,300 crore a year based on a February 2014 model, or Rs 20,000 crore per year, which is, however, thought to be on the high side. Even so, is that too much to pay for those who have protected the country’s territorial integrity, more than six lakh of whom have laid down their lives so that millions of their countrymen may live securely?
The ease with which legislators vote themselves a pay raise frequently enough is matched only by the eagerness of pay commissions to dole out more to civil servants at every turn. To extend that generosity to an army of people from the armed forces should not be as difficult as it is being made out to be. Having accepted OROP in principle, nothing should hold up its implementation now. It is up to the Prime Minister to walk the talk, especially since it has been arranged for the former top brass of the forces to meet him next week....