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SC Upholds Centre's Decision On 'One Rank One Pension': What Is OROP?

A longstanding demand among the Indian armed forces and veterans, One Rank One Pension (OROP) means 'same pension, for same rank, for same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement'.

Ex-servicemen participating in OROP protests in Delhi's Jantar Mantar
Ex-servicemen participating in OROP protests in Delhi's Jantar Mantar PTI

In a significant move on Wendesnes, the Supreme Court upheld the Centre's decision to give One Rank-One Pension (OROP) in defence forces. It said that the Bhagat Singh Koshyari Committee Report which dealt with OROP was submitted to the Rajya Sabha and that  “the report cannot be enforced as a statement of government policy”.

What is OROP?

A longstanding demand among the Indian armed forces and veterans, One Rank One Pension (OROP) means "same pension, for same rank, for same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement". The demand can be traced back to the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh War. Later, the Rajiv Gandhi government under National Congres (I) decided to implement the policy of 'Rank Pay' that reduced the salaries of several rank officers like captains, colonels, majors, brigadiers etc relative to basic pay scales of civilian and police officers. The Third Central Pay Commission of 1986 also led to distrust among defence veterans. The decision affected thousands of defence officials as well as veterans. The resulting asymmetry between police and military rank officers led to nearly two decades of litigation and lingering mistrust between the government and veteran officers.

The Manmohan years and Koshyari Committee

The Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in 2008 did away with the Rank Pay policy in light of the Sixth Pay Commission and introduced in its place the Grade Pay and Pay bands. But instead of reducing or even addressing the asymmetries between the military and police rank officials, the new policies exacerbated the discrepancies. The decision led to several OROP protests following which, the Indian government set up a 10-member all-party Parlimanetary Panel, also known as the Koshayri committee to look into the OROP matter. Following eight months of hearings, the Koshyari Committee in its report found merit in OROP and strongly recommended its implementation

What does the SC decision mean?

The apex court said there is no legal mandate that pensioners who held the same rank must be given the same amount of pension. The verdict came during the hearing of a plea which was filed by the Indian Ex-servicemen Movement (IESM) through advocate Balaji Srinivasan against the Centre's formula of OROP and sought implementation of OROP as recommended by the Koshyari Committee with an automatic annual revision, instead of the current policy of periodic review once in five years. 

Summarising the principles of governing pensions and cut-off dates, the SC bench led by DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath said that all pensioners who hold the same rank may not for all purposes form a homogenous class. 

The top court said the Koshyari committee report tabled in Rajya Sabha on December 10, 2011, furnishes the historical background, the reason for the demand, view of the Parliamentary Committee which proposed the adoption of OROP for personnel belonging to the armed forces and beyond this, the Report cannot be construed as embodying a statement of governmental policy.

It held that governmental policy formulated in terms of Article 73 by the Union or Article 162 by the State has to be authoritatively gauged from the policy documents of the government, which in the present case is the communication dated November 7, 2015.

(With inputs from PTI)

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