For the past several weeks, retired defence personnel have been protesting to get their long-standing demand for one rank, one pension implemented. Many expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce it during his Independence Day address, but he stopped short of doing so. Former defence secretary Yogendra Narain speaks to Veenu Sandhu about the complications in implementing the system and the possible solution
What is the background of the dispute over one rank, one pension? And how justified is this demand?
The armed forces are very rank conscious, so their demand for one rank, one pension is quite justified given the environment they exist in during their service career. They want to keep that rank consciousness and I would fully endorse that demand. Before 1973, for the armed forces the pension was 70 per cent of the last pay drawn. And civilians got 30 per cent as pension of the last pay drawn. Then the new (third) pay commission thought it fit to bring them at par - that is, make it 50 per cent for both the civilians and the defence forces. That was the change that took place in 1973.
What is keeping political parties from implementing this system?
The opposition is not political as much as practical because two things happened over the passage of time as the defence forces repeated their demand. Paramilitary forces, like the Border Security Force, which is doing very similar duties on the border with Pakistan and Bangladesh, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Central Reserve Police Force, also raised this demand. The one rank, one pension demand spread to all other forces. In fact, recently the paramilitary forces made a combined representation asking to be treated on parity with the defence forces.
Two, this demand for one rank, one pension has gone through various stages. Today, there is no unanimity on what exactly the concept is. There is division about its understanding even among the defence forces. Some say that it should be one rank, one pension only for the soldiers, the jawans who enter the service at the age of 18 and retire at 35 because traditionally it is presumed that after that they are not fighting fit. Jawans get their pension as 50 per cent of the highest amount in the pay scale they are working in, whereas all others - civilians, paramilitary forces and officers of the defence forces - get 50 per cent of the initial starting of the revised pay scale or the pension they are already drawing, whichever is higher. And then, of course, they get their dearness allowance.
Then the third change came with the demand that the pension should be the same for retired personnel having the same rank and the same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement. This can be done but it will take a long time to calculate this for all the retired personnel who are still alive.
Somebody suggested a formula that instead of years of service, let's take the average of the years of service. For example, if a brigadier retired anytime between one and seven years of service, let's take the average of, say, three-and-a-half years.
That is what has been confusing the government. The political masters have taken the decision that one rank, one pension has to be implemented, but the difficulty is in deciding what the concept of this system is.
But isn't it true that an officer who retires today gets higher pension than the officer of the same rank who has retired some years earlier?
Yes, there is this perception in the forces. A new pay commission comes in every 10 years. And then every officer of a particular rank gets 50 per cent of the starting of the revised pay scale. A serving officer of the same rank also keeps getting increments on his salary every year. So when he retires, he gets as pension 50 per cent of his last pay drawn. Those who are serving will always get higher because of the increments they have earned in the new pay scale. So in that sense, there is that gap. This gap gets levelled out only when the next pay commission sits.
Is the financial implication of implementing one rank, one pension also a concern?
There is no financial problem. The government can easily afford this. There is no such feeling that we can't pay Rs 8,400 crore or whatever amount it will take to implement this. That is not an issue at all. Finances are not an issue. This is a practical problem.
So what is the solution?
The actual demand, understanding, perception and conception of one rank, one pension should be clarified first. The simplest way would be to increase the pension from 50 per cent to 60 per cent and add uniformity to it. This mean, they would get 60 per cent of the starting of the revised pay scale. And that's all. So, they will get more than the civilians. It would also mean some restoration of what they were getting prior to 1973. That will be more practical and easy to implement. And let this also be done for the paramilitary forces.