New Delhi: Will the Prime Minister bite the bullet and grant a long-standing and just demand of 21 lakh ex-servicemen to implement the principle of One-Rank-One-Pension?
Developments in recent days have raised their hopes as never before.
On Wednesday, the three service chiefs, led by Admiral Nirmal Verma, Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) met with a high-powered Committee of Secretaries constituted by the Prime Minister to resolve anomalies in the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission award for the Armed Forces.
Although a total of 39 anomalies have been identified by the three services since 2008, they have decided to concentrate on some core issues that directly affect both serving and retired armed forces personnel.
The issues are:
- Fixing common pay scales for all JCOs and ORs
- Grant of NFU (non-functional upgradation) status to commissioned officers
- Correcting difference in rank pay of commissioned officers
- Extending the HAG+ (Higher administrative Grade Plus) scale to all three star officers
- Granting One-Rank-One-Pension to retired personnel
There have been strong demands from ex-servicemen and from acting servicemen for One-Rank-One-Pay. And to push for their demands further, the three Service chiefs, led by Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Naval chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, along with his colleagues, Chief of Air Staff ACM, NAK Browne and Army Chief General Bikram Singh gave a detailed presentation to the Committee of Secretaries on Wednesday.
The six-member committee, comprising the Cabinet Secretary with the Defence Secretary, Secretary Ex-Servicemen Welfare, Secretary DoPT, Expenditure Secretary and Principal Secretary to PM, as members was set up by the Prime Minister after a Rajya Sabha panel last year recommended granting One Rank One Pension to the retired defence personnel. The government has asked the committee to submit its report by August 8.
There is a buzz in the corridors of power that the Prime Minister wants to make a grand announcement from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 and therefore the deadline of August 8!
For the uninitiated, the One-Rank-One-Pay scheme 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 be automatically passed on to past pensioners.
But the issue that has upset and angered serving defence personnel is NFU.
For those not in uniform it needs a bit of an explanation.
Buckling under pressure from Group A organised Services under the Central Government like Border Roads Organisation, Military Engineering Services, Postal Services, the Sixth Pay Commission gave them a special concession.
It allowed the officers in these services to be placed in a grade pay scale equivalent to an IAS officer two years behind that particular IAS batch. For example if the 1992 batch of the IAS officer got placed in the Joint Secretary grade in 2012, all Group A organised officers of the 1990 batch would automatically get the pay and allowance equivalent to the 1992 IAS batch, irrespective of the post and place they are serving in. That is the upgradation will be done on a ‘non-functional’ basis.
This has brought in huge functional problems in day-to-day affairs when military officers have to work in close coordination with MES Civil Officers, BRO Civil Officers, IPS Officers in BSF, CRPF, ITBP, Defence Accts (IDAS), Test Audit (IA&AS), Ordnance Factory Board etc, with whom Defence forces officers interact regularly, will now get the salary and grade pay of Joint Secretary/Major General (Grade Pay Rs. 10000/-) after 22 years of service, and will draw the pay of Additional Secretary to Government of India which is equal to a Lieutenant General (Grade Pay Rs. 12000/-) in 32 years of service whereas military officers senior to them in rank and service will get less grade pay at the same level of service thereby creating a functional disparity giving rise to insubordination and subtle non-compliance.
Military officials have pointed out that this has adversely affected organisational command and control in multi cadre environment. It also led to lowering the status of Armed Forces Officials vis-a-vis organized Group A officers and IPS Officers. Organised Group A and IPS Officers reach HAG (Higher Administrative Grade) Scale at 32 years while only 0.2 per cent of Armed Forces Officers can ever reach that level.
With over 97 per cent Armed Forces Officers retiring in the Grade Pay of 8700, their exclusion from the NFU is seen as grossly unfair. This differential not only disturbs financial parity, it pushes down the Defence services in status as even direct recruit officers of Group B services attain a better pay and promotional avenue and manage to reach the level of Joint Secretary/Major General before retiring.
Both the OROP and granting the NFU status to Armed Forces officials is not going to be expensive either.
According to calculations done by the military, the annual outgo for granting One -Rank-One-Pension to the approximately 21 lakh ex-servicemen would not be more than Rs. 1300 crore. Similarly the NFU status, if granted, will cost the exchequer a mere Rs. 70 crore annually but will go a long way in restoring the pride and status of the armed forces’ officers.
The other core issues are minor in comparison but important nevertheless.
Can the Prime Minister show sagacity and wisdom in agreeing to these basic demands of the armed forces and restore dignity to the men in uniform at a time when the military has been buffeted from all sides?
In taking this decision, the technocrat Prime Minister will have to rise above his usual bureaucratic approach.
He may as well recall what good old Chanakya said about how the state should treat the soldiers, ages ago:
“He (the soldier) is thus the VERY BASIS and silent, barely visible CORNERSTONE of our fame, culture, physical well-being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity. He DOES NOT perform any of these chores himself directly: he ENABLES the rest of us to perform these without let, hindrance or worry (‘nirbhheek and nishchinta’).
Our military sinews, on the other hand, lend credibility to our pronouncements of adherence to good Dharma, our goodwill, amiability and peaceful intentions towards all our neighbour nations (‘sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramayaha…’) as also those far away and beyond. These also serve as a powerful deterrent against military misadventure by any one of them against us.”
My roots as a fauji son say the PM will take the correct decision and not let down the soldier; the journalist in me (and now I have been a journalist longer than I have been a fauji child) does not agree.