Statement of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, August 21, 2015
The struggle of over 25 lakh ex-servicemen and 6 lakh widows of ex-servicemen for One Rank One Pension has caught the attention of the whole country. People have seen how veteran soldiers, some in their eighties, have been sitting on relay hunger strike in front of parliament for over two months. They have seen these veteran army men being brutally attacked by the Delhi police in the name of ensuring “security” for the Independence Day function at the distant Red Fort.
Despite solemn promises to the contrary made in numerous speeches to veterans and serving army men before and after the General Elections, the Prime Minister has thus far failed to announce the fulfilment of their just demand for “One Rank One Pension”. This has forced agitating ex-servicemen from the Army, Air Force and Navy, organized under the banner of the United Forum of Ex Servicemen’s Organizations, to intensify their agitation.
Three ex-servicemen have begun an indefinite fast. Gallantry awards have been returned to the President. While the government has sought time through its emissaries, ex-servicemen are naturally wary about its intent. Years of going back on promises by successive governments has taught ex servicemen to trust deeds rather than words.
What is the issue?
The demand for “One Rank One Pension” (OROP) has been a simmering long standing demand of ex servicemen, particularly since the late nineteen seventies. At present, the pension of an ex serviceman is related to his rank at retirement, last drawn pay and years of service. This has resulted in great anomalies in pensions between servicemen who have the same years of service, same rank, but have retired in different years. There are many cases wherein an officer of higher rank who retired earlier, receives lower pension than an officer of lower rank who retired later. This is because the pensions of army men are set by the Pay Commissions, which revise pay and pensions every ten years. OROP means that irrespective of the year of retirement, two ex servicemen who have retired at the same rank and served the same number of years in the armed forces, must receive the same pension. OROP means that for servicemen, the pensions set by a Pay Commission should be applicable for all ex-servicemen.
While ex servicemen’s association have been consistently demanding OROP for decades, the issue has hotted up over the past decade. In 2004, the Congress Party promised OROP in its election manifesto. However in an about turn, the UPA government rejected the OROP demand in December 2008. Betrayed ex-servicemen returned over 22,000 gallantry, war and service medals to the President of India along with symbolically signing a letter with their own blood in 2009.
Under pressure of the struggle of the ex-servicemen, the parliament standing committee on Defence, called the Koshiari committee after its chairman, studied and accepted the concept and definition of OROP in 2013. The UPA government announced the implementation of OROP in an executive order in February 2014. Since the BJP-led NDA government came to power in May 2014, the government has been announcing its commitment to implement OROP. But till now, there has been no action on the ground.
It must be borne in mind that OROP was scrapped by the government of Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1973 through an executive order. Also, earlier, till the nineteen fifties, the rules of pension for army men were separate and distinct from the rules for pension for other government employees. Ex-servicemen received 70% of their last drawn pay as pension, while civilian employees received 30% of their last drawn pay as pension. These rules were changed decreasing the army men’s pension to 50% and increasing civilian government employees’ pension to 50%.
An entirely just demand
While in public, the government expresses sympathy for the demand of ex servicemen, insidious propaganda is being carried out to paint the demand for OROP as unjustified. It is made out that retired armed forces personal are demanding more than what other retired government employees get as pension. This is blatantly false.
The conditions of service of men and women of the armed forces are totally different from those of other government services. In the army, the retirement age of soldiers is set according to rank. Because the armed forces are supposed to be fighting fit, the retirement age of soldiers is set between the age of 35-37 years, by which time they would have completed 15-17 years of service. The retirement age for NCO’s/ JCO’s is set between 45-47 years, and that for officers begins from the age of 50 for Majors and goes up to a maximum of 62 for a General. A few decades back, the retirement ages were even lower.
Over 90% of those who retire do so as soldiers. They would have served 15-17 years of service. Current pension rules of government are heavily weighted against army men. These rules ensure that a person retiring will get full pension if he or she has served 33 years of active service. Otherwise, they get a portion of their pension. Government employees retire at 60, and the men of the CRPF retire at 57. These employees not only get the advantage of full pension, they also have the advantage of having secure livelihood for another 20-25 years. Not so for the army men. Despite the fact that the term for army men to get full pension has been reduced by 12 years, it has been estimated that 80 % of those who retire from the armed forces have to be content with 37% of their last drawn pay as pension..
According to the 6thPay Commission, the soldiers are classified as equivalent of Group D government employees. The life of a soldier of the Indian Army can be described as follows — He joins the army as a young man, inspired by high ideals. He serves in the most hostile environments, far away from family and home till the age of 35-37. When he retires, he has no job, as the government has no active policy of ensuring that ex servicemen are properly absorbed laterally in other government services. He has to fend for himself. The pension he receives becomes smaller and smaller in real terms, with rising inflation. Between the age of 37 and 60, when his counterparts in other government services are enjoying relative security, he is out on the streets, trying desperately to make two ends meet and bring up his family. At the age of 60, an ex-serviceman who retired as a soldier is drawing far less as pension as compared to a Group D government employee who joined service at the same time!
With regards to officers of the armed forces, there are huge differences when compared with the IAS and IPS. Less than 1% of officers will reach the rank of Major General, that too after 30 years of service. (This is because of the structure of the armed forces and the forced retirement of officers of a particular rank after a particular age.) The equivalent rank, in terms of salary in the IAS is the joint secretary, which 100% of IAS cadre attain after just 18 years of service. About 80% of IPS cadre attains an equivalent rank after 20 years of service.
Thus, there is great difference between the emoluments received by army men both during service, and after retirement. This is the basis for the demand for OROP.
Setting soldiers against officers
Various forces determined to discredit the struggle of ex-servicemen and smash their unity have been spreading the line that OROP does not benefit soldiers as much as it does officers. They talk of the absolute increase in salary that implementation of OROP will result in for the different ranks.
The leaders of the United Forum of Ex-servicemen’s Organizations have correctly nailed this propaganda. How come the government is suddenly shedding crocodile tears about the plight of soldiers, they ask. They have pointed out that if the government is seriously interested in increasing the benefits of soldiers, what is there to prevent it from doing so. For instance, why should the government not remove the 33 year requirement of service for members of the armed forces for getting full pension! This will automatically increase the pension of soldiers. Why does the government not raise the basic salaries of serving soldiers? Why does the government not implement its own past proposals for lateral recruitment of retired soldiers and officers of the army into the paramilitary forces and other government services?
The bogey of no money
Those opposed to implementing OROP even make the issue of the additional expense of Rs 8,300 crores it would cost! Adding this to the Rs 43,000 crores of current Defence pensions, the total is Rs 51,300 crores per annum. Veterans have pointed to the fact that the current year’s budget of the BJP-led NDA government waived Rs 5.72 lakhs crore to corporate houses on account of corporate tax, commercial tax and customs duties. The same government is not willing to spend a tiny fraction of this on ex-servicemen.
Deeds matter, not words!
The soldiers and officers of the armed forces spend their entire serving career defending the country and ready to risk their lives in doing so. When they retire from service, their simple demand is that they be treated with dignity.
The capitalist class in power considers the soldier to be an expendable commodity just like the factory worker— to be used and thrown away. The political parties of this class pretend to be very patriotic, mouthing the slogan “Jai jawan, Jai Kisan”. However, their track record shows that they care neither for the Kisaan nor for the jawan. They only care about the prosperity of the biggest capitalist houses, for which they are ready to spend any amount of public funds. Just like the workers and peasants of our country, our soldiers too have been forced to take the path of struggle in defence of their dignity and rights.
Communist Ghadar Party extends its full support to the just struggle of ex-servicemen for their rights. The workers, peasants, women and youth of India are with you in this struggle!
Struggle in support of the demand for “one rank one pension”
Retired servicemen are on a dharna in support of their demand for “one rank one pension” (OROP). A few of them are also on an indefinite fast. These retired servicemen have also decided to boycott the official commemoration of the 1965 war. They have condemned the brutal attack by the Delhi police on the striking servicemen. They took out a candlelight march on the evening of 23rd August from Jantar Mantar to India Gate. They have announced that they will keep their struggle alive till such time as the government does not fulfil their demands. Comrades of Communist Ghadar Party went to the site of their rally to express the Party’s support for their demands. Party has disseminated a statement on the OROP issue.