On 2 November, Sub Ram Kishan Grewal, 70, committed suicide over the issue of uniform pension for military personnel. Newspapers reported that he unsuccessfully tried to meet the Defence Minister over the issue before he killed himself. Ex-servicemen have been agitating for the past 515 days at Jantar Mantar, the site which has become the symbol of their struggle, demanding One Rank-One Pension. OROP, which was announced in 2015 after promises by the PM and continued agitation by the ex-soldiers and their families, has actually failed to address their major concerns.
The astute government appointed a Commission to buy time but refused to see the plain logic. It is clear the government is being unreasonable and unfair at the behest of the bureaucrats who consider themselves superior to the armed forces and can go to any extent to retain the supremacy. Major irritants in the present OROP scheme announced by the government are:
Policy for pension review:
The government has proposed a five year review, whereas the veterans are demanding yearly review. Only a fool will not see the plain logic that a five year review will not be one rank- one pension but make five different pensions for the same rank since the soldiers retiring in these five years will get more pension than those who have to wait to get the same. For example, a JCO retiring in 2016 will draw a lower pension for four years till the five yearly review becomes applicable to him.
Denying pension to pre-mature retirees:
The pyramid type of rank structure that exists in armed forces makes many deserving people ineligible for promotions. Also, once a person is passed over for promotion, his/her motivation comes down and the person doesn’t remain that professional a soldier any great army can really be proud of. That is why almost 40 percent of the officer cadre applies for pre-mature retirement and government grants the same in the interest of both the parties. Minimum service limit for pension may be revised to get the best from the soldier. Denying pension to all pre-mature retirees amounts to gross injustice.
Application of faulty yardstick for calculating pension:
Government has used the average formula for calculating the pension, which means that a Colonel who served in this rank for say 7 years before retiring will get the same pension as the one who served for say, one year. Veterans demand that top of the scale pension should be given.
Date of applicability of OROP:
Government made the announcement that OROP will be applied w e f 01 April 2014, but unilaterally changed the date to July 1 , 2014 unfairly denying three months pension to the ex-servicemen. This act smacks of ill intentions of the government and has caused a lot of resentment among them.
As is obvious from the above, the government is acting in an arbitrary manner and is responsible for making a mess of an issue as sensitive as this. It doesn’t behove of a democratic government which boasts of being a friend of the soldiers who sacrifice their lives for their beloved country, to say something and mean something different. Certain irresponsible statements by the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister (the statements may have been made by them because of some political compulsions, but they surely must not play games with the ex-servicemen) has only added fuel to the fire.
OROP, announced in 2015 after PM’s promises and continued agitation by ex-soldiers, has failed to address major concerns
A political storm blew over Delhi on the day of the suicide of the ex-serviceman and OROP, which was almost forgotten, was back on the burner. It is most unfortunate that the opposition is using the issue of the death of Sub Ram Kishan Grewal as a political handle to attack the Modi government. Rahul Gandhi and Kejriwal are obviously the two who are making the most of it. Congress has accused Modi of lying and says that what Modi calls OROP is actually a pension enhancement, where as the government feels that exploiting a tragedy and converting it in to a political gain is most unfair. Whatever may turn out to be the real reason of the Subedar’s suicide, one thing is certain that he was actively involved with the agitation and has left enough evidence that he was unhappy the way soldiers were being treated. This acrimony between the government and
opposition does not help the cause of the ex-servicemen and they want this slugfest to stop at the earliest and a sincere effort be made by the government to find a workable and reasonable solution. Instead the MoD went ahead and released documents lowering the status of the army vi-a-vis civil service and the police. The timing of this couldn’t be worse.
In modern military operations various types of stressors that affect a man in uniform are danger of life, work load, boredom, powerlessness and isolation etc. After he retires he brings with him his honesty, loyalty and efficiency with him and finds himself unsuitable in a corrupt, inefficient and manipulative world around him. In such an operative environment, managing the well-being of military personnel when in uniform and of the ex-servicemen and their families should be a very high priority for all governments since their very existence depends on disciplined, efficient and loyal armed forces. It is unfortunate that most of the governments treat it as a routine government work and don’t pay any special attention to it .It is well-known that successive governments at the centre have not paid required attention to the well-being of the armed forces in general and the ex-servicemen in particular.
It is obvious from the fact that the genuine right of the ex-servicemen was denied to them for 43 long years despite the fact that many Prime Ministers from different political parties made announcements of their intentions to grant OROP from the ramparts of Red Fort. So much
so that the brave ex-servicemen had to deposit their medals with the President- their Supreme Commander- and even resort to burning the medals they earned while fighting for the nation.
On 14 December 2009, the then Defence Minister informed Lok Sabha that the Ministry received 9 boxes of medals returned by retired servicemen to protest the non-settlement of OROP demand. Strangely, no one bothered to find how many medals were there in the boxes. There was no uproar in the Parliament over it as if it was acceptable to the House that made the ex-servicemen to take this unprecedented and unfortunate step.
Whenever the ex-servicemen put pressure on the government, its knee-jerk reaction yielded some
favourable results for them. However, no government felt the urgent need of developing a holistic policy of benefits to the ex-soldiers who gave their best years of life to protect the nation from external aggression and contributed tremendously in aid to civil authorities whenever they were called upon to do so. The genesis of all the problems being faced by the defence forces while in uniform or after retirement is that no government has made a sincere effort to understand the unique nature of their service conditions.
Though well-being is hard to define but in qualitative terms it is associated with being happy, healthy, or prosperous and is determined by physical and mental health, income and wealth and satisfaction with specific domains in life. Although large number of ex-servicemen cope well with whatever they get from the government because of the nature of their training, a certain number account for serious hardships and develop many psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, some typical stress disorders and even suicide. This calls for better efforts by the governments to promote their well-being. In fact, such interventions are required even before a soldier retires.
It must be stressed that today’s soldier is very different from his earlier brethren. He is more educated, generally better aware of his position in the society, the quality of life his equivalents in other jobs lead and so on. In such an environment the ex-servicemen are getting frustrated because they have to struggle even for their genuine rights. It is a tragedy any sensible government must avoid. Unfortunately, politicians are neither sensible nor sensitive. The soldier, who faces the steel of battle field with his relentless and violent actions, subjecting himself to the risk of losing his life, expects the government to be more sensitive to his genuine demands when he retires so that he can lead a life of dignity and self-respect. It is unfortunate that the man in uniform is convinced that he is not getting a fair deal while serving and is denied his rightful place in the society after he hangs his boots. All this is sure to cause him pain and anguish that affects his professional competence, morale, values and ethics while he is serving and his attitude as a good citizen when he retires.
Government must appreciate that neglect of ex-servicemen amounts to betrayal. India is among the few countries that claim to take pride in their defence forces and yet neglect their heroes when out of uniform. VP Singh’s government accepted the OROP demand and the President even made a mention of it in his address to the Parliament in 1990. Defence Minister George Fernandes had on two separate occasions in April 1999 stated that the order to implement the OROP would be out soon. But the all powerful bureaucrat held his hand back and he cut a sorry figure. As a matter of fact, all the successive governments kept promising that they were keen to grant OROP to the ex-servicemen but always went back on their promises in a shameless manner.
It is unfortunate that we do a great job of creating heroes, of worshipping them on their death anniversaries and on special occasions like Independence Days, Republic Days, Raising Days, and Martyrdom Days and so on but are not ready to give them their due when they are living. We like our heroes dead so that we can immortalize them by constructing their statutes and war memorials and hanging their photographs at important places. After that it is an easy matter to garland the statues and photographs, lay wreaths, and make emotional speeches. And nobody thinks any more about them till next year. To bring home the following lines by an anonymous author must be quoted God and the soldier All men adore In time of trouble, For when war is over And all things righted, God is neglected- The old soldier slighted.
One wonders when Indians will start respecting the serving soldiers and the ex-servicemen. Retired soldiers are the senior citizens and deserve their due on both the accounts. In certain developed countries whenever people see a person in the uniform or a veteran, they get up and clap with a smile as a mark of respect. In our great country armed forces personnel have to travel in trains sleeping on the floor and no one raises an eyebrow at their plight. In fact, people are immune to such scenes on regular basis. No one in the administration, police or judiciary gives them any respect.
Babus , their staff and even their peons in every government department harass the veterans and are not ashamed of forcing them to bribe to get routine work done. A recent case in point of the apathy of administration is the killing of the father of a serving Major by anti-social elements even after he reported the matter to the police chief of the concerned district. Let our beloved countrymen appreciate that a nation that does not respect its soldiers is doomed to fail sooner or later.