Monday, 24 September 2012

Govt enhances pensions of retired soldiers, 'one-rank, one-pension' still distant

Govt enhances pensions of retired soldiers, 'one-rank, one-pension' still distant
Clean Media Correspondent

NEW DELHI, Sept 24 (CMC) Faced with huge discontentment among military personnel over their long-standing pay and pension grievances, the government on Monday finally announced an annual Rs 2,300 crore additional pension package for ex-servicemen but stopped short of granting them full one-rank, one-pension (OROP).

The government also maintained silence on the fate of the five main demands of serving officers and jawans, who contend they were given "a raw deal" in the 6th Pay Commission as compared to their civilian counterparts.

Their demands, which were also considered by the high-powered committee led by cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth, ranged from common pay scale for junior commissioned officers/other ranks (JCOs/ORs) and enhancement of grade pay to placing all lieutenant generals in the HAG + (higher administrative grade-plus) scale and grant of non-functional upgradation to armed forces personnel.

But the 23 lakh ex-servicemen, many of whom have been holding regular rallies and returning their medals as a mark of protest for the last four years, have something to cheer about. For one, the Union Cabinet approved the "bridging of the gap" between the pensions of the JCOs/ORs who retired before January 1996 and those who superannuated after that date.

It was also decided to increase the "weightage of qualifying service" for pension by two years in the ranks of sepoys, naiks and havaldars for both pre and post January 1996 retirees.

Moreover, the pension of pre-January 1996 retired officers will also be stepped up "with reference to the minimum of fitment table for the ranks instead of the minimum of pay band" as it exists now. Officials said these steps "are expected to largely meet" the demands of ex-servicemen for OROP, which incidentally has been promised by virtually all political parties over the years.

For another, the government has approved enhancement in family pension, allowed dual family pension (where the pensioner was drawing pension for military service as well as civil employment) and family pension to mentally challenged children of armed forces personnel even after they get married.

"But all this is modified parity and not the OROP we have been demanding," said a retired major general. OROP basically implies that uniform pension be paid to the personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any further enhancement in pension rates be automatically be passed on to past pensioners.

The argument is that unlike civilian government employees, who retire at 60 years of age, military personnel retire by rank at comparatively younger ages. "All jawans retire in their mid-30s, all JCOs in their mid-40s and the bulk of officers in early-50s to keep the armed forces from greying. Only a handful of officers like lieutenant generals serve up to 60 years," said an officer.

"Since the date of retirement also determines the quantum of pension, with each Pay Commission every 10 years, the military veterans who retire early receive lesser pension compared to those who retired later with the same rank and service," he added.

But the defence ministry in the past has contended that full OROP is not financially, legally or administratively feasible. Full OROP implementation would mean an annual outgo of another Rs 1,200-1,300 crore, apart from payment of arrears in the range of Rs 4,000 crore.

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