One Rank, One Pension: Not a Pandora’s Box

by Varun Srivastava

The demand for One Rank, One Pension (OROP) has existed in various forms since 1973, when the policy was terminated by an order subsequent to the 3rd Central Pay Commission. In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has held in D.S. Nakara & others v. Union of India that “pension is not a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer. It is not an ex-gratia payment, but a payment for past services rendered[1]. In taking from the essence of this judgment, the demand for OROP is a legitimate one for just payment for services that veterans have already rendered. The implementation of OROP was also recommended in 2011 by the Koshiyari Committee set by the Rajya Sabha to review the matter.

While the demand has existed for a long time, protests in the past year became increasingly vocal and vehement given that the present Government had made OROP a poll promise. In August 2015, veterans in New Delhi and across the nation were protesting against the government. They organised rallies and many went on a hunger strike with the objective of securing one pension for one rank. In February 2015, the Supreme Court had ordered the Government to enforce OROP at the earliest possible instance. However, there was a marked reluctance on the part of the Government to implement OROP. Perhaps because it came to terms with the additional 8,000-10,000 crores of financial burden which would be incurred due to revised salaries. The Government finally announced its OROP policy on 5th September, 2015. Though the veterans are still not satisfied with the announcement, with disagreements on various technical grounds such as the frequency of pension revisions, the fact remains that OROP for armed forces has been accepted in principle.

OROP requires that all retired defence personnel of the same rank with the same length of service should receive the same pension in any particular year, irrespective of their date of retirement. So, the pension received by a Jawan who retired with 15 years of service in the year 2000, should be the same as that received by a Jawan who retires today with 15 years of service. This should also ensure that no personnel of a senior rank are paid less than personnel of a junior rank. This principle was accepted by the Supreme Court and it was held that the Government should work on a pension scheme which incorporates this principle. (Union of India and another v. Major General SPS Vains (Retd.) and others)

Any fears, such as expressed by the Finance Minister that implementing OROP for the armed forces might trigger the demand for OROP for other services, are completely baseless. The recent demand for OROP by the Indian Railways’ employees should also be rejected. Granting OROP to the armed forces cannot be equated to opening a Pandora’s Box of similar policies for other government employees. The armed forces form a class of their own, and hence, a demand for OROP by other services would not stand as equality must exist among equals only (Air India v. Nargesh Meerza & Others). Even if the test of arbitrariness (I R Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu) is applied, granting OROP only for the armed forces still stands, due to the justifications discussed below.

There is a vast difference between civilian employment and defence employment. Not only are the service conditions and regimented life of defence personnel much harsher but the length of their service is also determined by their rank. In civilian service, the retirement age is fixed at 60 years. At similar levels of seniority, the pay is higher for civil servants than in the armed forces, and promotions are faster. Even the Central Armed Paramilitary Forces (CAPFs), whose service conditions may be similarly harsh, have the benefit of a retirement age fixed at 60 years. Whether an employee is a Havildar in the CAPFs or a senior officer, the retirement age remains the same.

The retirement policy of other services should be contrasted with the Armed Forces wherein most non-commissioned soldiers retire between 35-47 years of age. Most personnel are the enlisted Jawans who retire at around 40 when their family and personal responsibilities peak. Post such retirement, they have poor employment prospects because their absorption into the paramilitary forces or other government employments becomes difficult due to bureaucratic hurdles. Their skills find little relevance in private sector employment. Thus, compulsory early retirement seriously affects the Jawans. Even officers are disadvantaged as compared to their civilian counterparts. Officers are promoted automatically till the rank of Colonel, at which stage (54-56 years) most have to retire with very few being promoted further. Thus, it is more difficult in the armed forces to reach senior positions than in other civil services. This is due to the highly pyramidal command structure and the need for a young force. This coupled with the harsh and regimented life of defence personnel results in the association of higher rank with higher prestige. Therefore, it is unjust to have older senior officers being paid a lower pension than a younger and junior officer. This principle was accepted by the Apex Court as well in the Major General SPS Vains case.

Even after retirement, officers of the Armed Forces are allowed to continue using their rank as a title according to a circular issued by the Ministry of Defence. Even Article 18 of the Constitution provides that the State can confer military titles. It is said that an officer may retire, but his rank does not retire. This means that even after retirement, the officers continue to use their rank and the privileges associated with it. This is not true for other central government employees who do not retain their designations after retirement. Therefore, the principle that it is unjust to pay older high-ranking officers a lower pension than a younger and lower-ranking officer cannot be made applicable to other services as there is no distinction on the basis of ranks once civilian employees retire. While it may be argued that judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts too continue using the prefix ‘Justice’ after retirement, all judges have the same retirement age, whereas officers of different ranks retire at different ages. Thus for judges there is no question of senior or junior ranks as all high court judges on retirement have the same level of seniority.

It is worth noting that according to Section 47 of the Disability Act, no government employee can be discharged on the grounds of disability, regardless of how it may have been caused. However, in the armed forces, physical fitness is of primary importance and any disability may result in discharge even when caused in the line of duty. This further creates a distinction in the terms of service for civilian employees and armed forces.

It should be noted that the National Pension System (NPS) passed in 2013, even as envisioned in The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Act, is not mandatory for defence personnel. The most plausible reason again is their variable and early retirement age. The NPS moves the pension system of Central Government from a ‘defined benefit’ scheme to a ‘defined contribution’ scheme with the employees contributing 10% of their pay towards the fund which is matched by a contribution from the government. This goes on till 60 years of age which is the retirement age for most Central Government jobs. The return on this corpus, coupled with the corpus itself, provides the pension. Since defence personnel retire much earlier, their contribution is insufficient to create the requisite corpus that could provide a significant pension. Thus, this scheme is not attractive for defence personnel. They are further disadvantaged in terms of pension as compared to other government employees.

The demand for OROP by the armed forces has been around for more than 40 years. Given the various court rulings, the election promise made by the present government and the increasing impatience of the veterans in securing their demand, OROP has finally been accepted in principle. While there are differences regarding technicalities, they will hopefully be ironed out as it has been proposed that a judicial commission be set up to ensure the smooth implementation of the policy. However, as it has been shown, the armed forces are unique as employment with them cannot be equated to employment with any other central service, be it the civil service or paramilitary service. The terms of their service and retirement are both harsh and incomparable in nature. Therefore, the granting of OROP to the armed forces is completely justified. Any fears that similar policies will have to be framed for other central services should be set aside as there are constitutional, factual and logical justifications for such differential treatment.

(Varun Srivastava is an Associate Editor at the Journal of Indian Law and Society)

[1] D.S. Nakara & others v. Union Of India, 1983 AIR 130.

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