Discontent is intensifying among defence personnel over the government’s neglect of their demand for ‘one rank, one pension’, which has been pending for some years now
India's military men have fought and won some very difficult wars for the country in the short period since independence. But off the battlefield, they are waging a fight for fair retirement benefits, which has gone on so long, they are wondering what they will have to do to succeed this time.
The issue of 'One Rank, One Pension' concerns the disparity in pension scales for retired personnel of the same rank. For example, a colonel who retired prior to 1 January 2006 gets lesser pension than what is given to a colonel who retired later. The problem is compounded because of early retirement age in the military, unlike in the case of civilians who retire at 60, which puts soldiers at a serious disadvantage in monetary terms.
It's an issue that affects over 2.3 million ex-servicemen-the most disciplined and law-abiding class of citizens in our society-that has led them to protest publicly by returning their gallantry medals, after even petitions signed in their blood have failed to move the government. Again, unlike civilians, they do not have full-fledged associations to hold demonstrations, nor are they temperamentally inclined to make public their grievances.
While a part of their demand has been met, they have been brushed away generally, with unsubstantiated arguments of the financial burden on the national exchequer and with excuses of a risk of similar demands from other central civil services, when actually there is no similarity between the civil and military services but in fact a huge difference both in terms of service and hazards. Such mischief has resulted in perpetuating the neglect and systematic suppression of the demands of the military and its retiring/retired soldiers.
A look at the ground realities will help better understand the genuine need to implement the 'one rank, one pension' (OROP) structure urgently, towards restoring the dignity and morale of the armed forces.
1) Significance of military rank: The hierarchy of military leadership is based on visible badges of rank and embellishments on the uniform of officers and junior commissioned officers (JCOs)/non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Professional and social protocol is governed by the status and authority of the rank in this hierarchical order. Traditionally and legally, servicemen carry their rank even on retirement, as a legacy. So, while in active military service no junior will get more salary than his senior in the same rank, on retirement the equation changes. Juniors in a particular rank, will on retirement a few years later, get more pension than their seniors who retired earlier in the same rank. This is not only unjust, it is also ridiculously embarrassing.
2) Shorter service, lower benefits: A majority of the officers and jawans retire 10 to 20 years earlier than civilian government employees, which results in a loss of pay, allowances and service benefits for these many years. The need to maintain a youthful military profile sees jawans and JCOs retiring between 38 and 48 years of age, and officers start retiring at 50, when usually their kids are still quite young, parents too old and the family responsibilities far more expanded.
Civilians, on the other hand, are allowed to serve up to 60 years of age and they usually retire after reaching their final pay bands. About this time their children are well-settled and life's basic commitments have been largely accomplished.
Such terms and conditions of service result in heavy financial loss for soldiers, at the most crucial stage of their lives, when they need this financial security the most. As nearly all civil government employees reach their final post and pay band by retirement, they qualify for the highest pension scale in their position, which translates into a more remunerative package than in the case of ex-servicemen, who are demanding only 'one rank, one pension'.
In fact, had military personnel invoked the principle of equity, they would have demanded the highest pension grades corresponding to the pay band of a Sub-Major for JCOs and other ranks (OR) and the final scale of senior administrative grade (SAG)/higher administrative grade (HAG), that is for Major General/Lieutenant General for officers, as is the practice in the civil services.
3) Unequal career growth opportunity: Whereas nearly all civilians make speedy career advances in the secure environs of their pre-specified state cadres/deputations, reaching the highest rank/pay bands, the majority in the armed forces (jawans and officers) find themselves out of a job even though they have fulfilled the laid down criteria for career advancement/promotions.
This is the contrast: Whereas over 90% of IAS officers reach secretary/additional secretary level and none retires below the joint secretary rank, only 0.02% of armed forces officers make it to the Army Commander level, 0.15% to other Lieutenant General levels (Corps Commanders and others) and only 0.4% to the Major General level (even after the recent cadre enhancement!). Because of the constricted pyramidal organisational structure of the armed forces, a large number of competent officers eligible for higher ranks have to be wasted out every year. Caught in this whirlpool of systemic adversity, a large number of qualified officers get neither their deserved pay nor pension. Likewise, a majority of jawans reach no further than Honorary Havildar level, whereas almost all lower division clerks (LDCs) in central services and all police constables are assured of retiring at least as Section Officers and Sub-Inspectors (SIs), respectively, reaping the highest returns up to the age of 60 and thereafter.
Military personnel obviously deserve to be appropriately compensated for the salary loss suffered due to curtailed period of service and restricted career opportunities, and resultant lower pension from enforced early retirement.
4) Unimaginably tough service conditions: Forfeiting their fundamental rights, our jawans and officers not only serve in extremely hostile terrain and climate, but they also spend the better part of their lives separated from their families, even in peace times, and no guarantee of weekly offs and festival holidays. More lives are known to be lost due to these tough conditions than in battle, something common citizens cannot even imagine.
These extraordinary service conditions make the armed forces distinct from and incomparable with any other service in the country. And recognising this, the government had decided to set up a separate pay commission for the armed forces. (The defence minister announced this in the Lok Sabha on 13 July 2009.) But details about how the commission will be constituted have not yet been made public.
5) A nation's strength: In spite of a back-breaking recession, the United States has primarily through its superior military might asserted its will and maintained its authority at the top of the world order, with scant regard for dissent. A credible military deterrent is essential if a nation has to make meaningful political, diplomatic and economic strides. Few countries have used their military force as much as India has to defend our borders and maintain internal order.
With a history of four wars since Independence, incessant insurgency and expanding terrorism, India's armed forces should be an example of a powerful and motivated military. From Siachin to Arunachal and down to Kanyakumari, the authorities have regularly called on the services of the armed forces in natural calamities and riots, during disruptions of essential services or failure of civil administration, and even to salvage national honour in the face of fiascos like the footbridge collapse in New Delhi, days before the Commonwealth Games.
Unfortunately, ever since the Third Pay Commission, there has been a calculated and systematic process going on to degrade the position and prestige of the military. Every successive pay commission has pushed servicemen a few notches below their deserved levels. The manner in which the demand of ex-servicemen for one rank, one pension has been treated, indicates that there are anti-military forces working to deprive soldiers and ex-servicemen of their genuine dues.
Bureaucrats guilty of delaying and denying military personnel their dues and entitlements must be dealt with severely and prosecuted. This must be ensured especially where the political leadership and/or higher judiciary have ruled in favour of the military, as is clear from the following record.
(a) OROP has been repeatedly recommended by successive parliamentary committees over the years.
(b) Almost all major political parties, including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have supported this long-pending demand, even in their election manifestos. United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi is on record declaring her support for ex-servicemen on the issue.
(c) Observations and directions by the judiciary (this includes the Supreme Court) on a number of cases relating to disparity in pay and pension of ex-servicemen, have talked about the removal of the disparity. The Supreme Court has gone to the extent of admonishing the authorities for treating soldiers/ex-soldiers like 'beggars'.
(d) Even a committee headed by the cabinet secretary found it hard to refute the legitimacy of OROP. However, while the committee largely accepted the essence of the demand with respect to JCOs/OR (personnel below officer's rank - PBOR), in the case of commissioned officers it stopped short of according parity between pre- and post-01-01-2006 pensioners. (From a statement by AK Antony, defence minister, in the Lok Sabha, on 13 July 2009.) Confounding a simple issue, the committee's convoluted recommendations at best halved the injustice to officers, by introducing an absurdly misleading idea of 'modified parity', as if there could be such a thing as 'modified truth'. The reality is that anything other than 'parity' is 'disparity' and that must be resolved in simple and absolute terms.
Unfortunately, an impression has been sought to be created over this genuine issue, as if it was a mere welfare matter. The result is further delay on this critical issue that affects serving and retired service personnel, and this can only hurt the morale of the armed forces, weakening our national defence. Nothing can be more perilous for a country than a demoralised military led by a discontented leadership, simply because of the apathy of the powers that be on such an important matter.
(The writer is a military veteran who commanded an Infantry battalion with many successes in counter-terrorist operations. He was also actively involved in numerous high-risk operations as second in command of the elite 51 Special Action Group of the National Security Guard (NSG.) He conducts leadership training and is the author of two bestsellers on leadership development that have also been translated into foreign languages.)
SBI Life Insurance reported a 33% growth in net profit at Rs366 crore for the financial year ended March 2011 on the back of increase in renewal premium income
Leading private sector insurer SBI Life Insurance today reported a 33% growth in net profit at Rs366 crore for the financial year ended March 2011 on the back of increase in renewal premium income.
"We continue to be profitable from operations side as we keep our expenses low. Bancassurance (bank channels) and agency force is helping us to sustain profits," SBI Life Insurance managing director MN Rao told PTI.
SBI Life Insurance is a joint venture between State Bank of India and BNP Paribas Assurance. SBI owns 74% of the total capital in the JV and BNP Paribas Assurance holds the remaining 26%.
The total premium income of the insurance company during the fiscal grew by 28% to Rs12,912 crore. New business premium collection stood at Rs7,572 crore, a rise of 7% over previous financial year.
"We are moving aggressively on renewal business. With 74% growth, our renewal premium collection rose to Rs5,340 crore in FY'11 from Rs3,063 crore in FY'10," Rao added.
The persistency ratio of SBI Life rose to 69% in FY'11, from 58% last year. Also the Asset Under Management jumped by 40% to Rs40,163 crore at the end of 31 March 2011. The company added 135 branches during the fiscal.
During the current financial year (2011-12), SBI Life would focus on optimising bank channel usage for product distribution.
"We will focus on the bancassurance model. We plan to open 75 new branches by middle of June this year for which we have IRDA approval," he added.
The company is also looking at increasing the workforce by up to 15% during the current fiscal. We will increase the staff strength to about 8,250 from 7,300 at present.
On plans of capital infusion, Rao said SBI Life is a well capitalised company and all expansions would be funded by internal accruals.
"In the current fiscal we are targeting a 35% growth in total business premium from Rs12,912 crore at present. With this we will be able to fund all the expenses," Rao added.
Reliance Mutual Fund new issue closes on 28th April
Reliance Mutual Fund has launched Reliance Fixed Horizon Fund-XIX-Series 3, a close-ended income scheme.
The primary investment objective of the scheme is to seek to generate regular returns and growth of capital by investing in a diversified portfolio of central and state government securities and other fixed income/debt securities maturing on or before the date of maturity of the scheme with the objective of limiting interest rate volatility. The tenor of the scheme is 186 days.
The new issue closes on 28th April. The minimum investment amount is Rs5,000.
Crisil Short Term Bond Fund Index is the benchmark index. Amit Tripathi is the fund manager.