After OROP, instability - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 14 September 2015

After OROP, instability

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Sept 15

The still unresolved, “one rank, one pension” (OROP) agitation has exacerbated the lack of trust between the military on the one hand, and politicians and bureaucrats on the other. In a double defeat for the government, it will pay out at least Rs 18,000-22,000 crore for a settlement, but still leave most ex-servicemen grumbling. That is because the government has misunderstood the nature of the OROP agitation, which is less a demand for money than an expression of outrage at being discriminated against vis-à-vis the cordially disliked Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Many veterans have told me they would accept the status quo on pensions, provided OROP benefits are also withdrawn from the IAS and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS).

But the tiger has tasted blood, given the strong media and public support during the OROP agitation. Already another (morally and logically justifiable) demand is taking shape with armed forces discussion groups buzzing with another long-standing grievance bearing the clumsy moniker of “non-functional upgradation”. NFU, which the government has denied the military, was granted to numerous Group ‘A’ Central Services like the Defence Research & Development Service, Border Roads Organisation, Defence Quality Assurance Service, Indian Ordnance Factory Service, et al. It is only a matter of time before the NFU demand is raised more strongly.

In simple terms, NFU means that when an IAS officer from a particular batch (a batch includes everyone who joins service the same year) is promoted to a certain rank (say deputy secretary), all her batchmates from Group ‘A’ central services automatically start drawing the pay scale of deputy secretary two years after her promotion. This continues all the way up the line. The term NFU implies that, even as those officials continue to discharge their earlier functions, they are upgraded to the higher pay grade of their IAS batchmate. Effectively this means that every central services officer makes it to top pay grades, albeit with a two-year time lag behind the IAS.

You might wonder why the IAS, which safeguards its own interests well by virtue of making the rules, has not awarded itself NFU cover. That is because the IAS does not need NFU since every IAS officer anyway reaches the government’s highest grade of pay, called the “apex scale”, which brings in a salary of Rs 80,000 per month. Even when an IAS officer fails to get empanelled for promotion by the Centre, she continues getting time-scale promotions in her state cadre. When she reaches the rank of “additional chief secretary” in the state cadre, which all of them automatically do, she enters the apex scale. The IFS too benefits from a similar system.

Military officers deeply resent the fact that the IAS and IFS keep getting promoted, regardless of merit and performance. Furthermore, the IAS wangled an order after the 6th Pay Commission that officials drawing salaries in the apex scale would be automatically entitled to OROP. This means that, as successive pay commissions revise the apex scale, as the 7th Pay Commission is currently doing, their pensions would rise in sync. However, 99 per cent of military officers do not make it to the apex scale. For them, each pay commission would separately determine smaller pension raises.

The double benefit to the IAS and IFS --- i.e. apex scale salaries for all, and OROP for all --- is doubly infuriating to the military, whose exceptionally steep promotion pyramid allows only a miniscule percentage of officers to reach the apex scale. Of a hundred army, navy or air force officers in a batch, only 30-40 are selected for promotion to colonel (or equivalent rank in the navy and air force), 10-12 of those go on to become brigadiers, 4-5 become major generals and just one or two make lieutenant general, where apex scales apply. While the military deems this rank hierarchy essential, officers believe they must be covered by NFU, so that those who lose out on promotion do not simultaneously lose out on salaries and pension.

There are significant and obvious disadvantages in being excluded from NFU. A major general posted to army headquarters as an additional director general draws a significantly lower salary than a civilian director serving directly under him. If the major general were to retire in his present rank, his pension would be Rs 5,000 lower than his civilian subordinate, even were the latter to retire on the same date with less service than the general. Every civilian Group ‘A’ central service officer is assured of retiring in at least the “higher administrative grade” pay scale, equivalent to the pay grade of a lieutenant general. In comparison, just one per cent of army officers reach that pay grade.

Yet the defence ministry has flatly turned down NFU for the armed forces, after the military demanded it in 2009-10. The detailed and convincing case mentioned a range of employment-related hardships the military faced, including: legally binding curbs on their fundamental rights, strict disciplinary codes, long separation from families (on average, 67 per cent of their working life for officers and 78 per cent for other ranks), truncated careers, stringent promotion criteria, continuous hazards and threats to life (84 per cent greater likelihood of death in service, when compared to civilian service). Furthermore, the grant of NFU to the IPS but not to the military disturbed the principle of parity between the two that the 3rd, 4th and 5th pay commissions had established.

The defence ministry peremptorily rejected this demand in a brief one-page note written on July 15, 2010. This said the military’s service conditions were different from those of civilians (hardly news to the military, which had cited harsher working conditions in their demand). The ministry argued that the services already got “military service pay” as compensation for difficult working conditions. Finally, stating the obvious again, the ministry declared that NFU was for organised Group ‘A’ services, which the military was not. A right-to-information petition later revealed that no civil servant higher than a joint secretary had considered this demand, which three service chiefs had vetted and cleared.

Like with OROP, the system seems not to be correcting itself until it is pushed to the wall. The 7th Pay Commission is unlikely to extend NFU to the armed forces, since members are protesting that it makes poor economic sense. The army, navy and air force know that is true but will not countenance everybody getting the benefit except for the one that deserves it most, by virtue of having by far the highest percentage of superseded personnel.

The big political question is: what form will the demand for NFU take? OROP was a pension issue, so pensioners did the heavy lifting at Jantar Mantar, the protest site in New Delhi. But how will serving officers demand NFU?

If the central government is frustrated by these complex and interlinked demands, it must blame the deplorable creating of exceptions for the IAS. Avay Shukla, a former IAS officer who blogs on “Hill Post”, noted during the OROP agitation: “The government consists of scores of departments… There are intricate linkages between them: the whole structure is like a huge spider web in which all the strands are inter-connected, and disturbing just one cobweb destabilises the entire structure.”

With the structure already disturbed, can the government restore the status quo ante? Finding a new equilibrium that balances so many actors seems well nigh impossible.


  1. Powerful and succinctly put. Mischief all around by the civil SERVANTS.

  2. This article does not make itself clear. Does the IAS have NFU or not? In one paragraph, in seeking to illustrate the concept of NFU, it leaves readers with the impression that the Civil Service has the benefit of NFU. It starts the next paragraph by noting that the IAS has not conferred on itself the benefit of NFU cover.

    If that is the case, then where is the question of seeking parity with the Civil Service on NFU?

    1. The IAS doesn't need NFU. The NFU rule says that officers of any (non-IAS) group A service will get equivalent pay of a particular grade two years after IAS officers of the same seniority batch (year) have been promoted to that grade. Thus IAS (being the service from which other group A services are to take the cue to grant NFU to a certain batch) doesn't itself need NFU.

  3. It's the case of the accused being the judge, IAS being accused of granting itself service benefits & then adjucating whether these are justified for the defence forces. What could be worse than this. Political leaders are transients who are easily manipulated by executives by progressing the former's pet policies & then getting them to ok 👌 what they want approved. The lobby of civil services is strong 💪 for their own career progression & even stronger when opposing proposals of defence services.

  4. Dear Sir,

    1. Thanks for this post highlighting our severely disadvantaged situation vis-à-vis civ Services (organised or otherwise)!

    2. Sorry for nitpicking but you may consider making following corrections:-

    "That is because the IAF does not need NFU since every IAS officer anyway reaches the government’s highest grade of pay"

    It should be IAS in place of IAF in the above sentence.

    "hardly news to the military, which had citing harsher working conditions in their demand"

    It should be cited in place of citing.

    Thanks once again Sir. _/\_

    Warm regards,
    - Harry

  5. Sir here is another piece of news to stump eveyone!

    😏 Very Interesting 👇

  6. as usual ajay shukla has highlighted the issue objectively. maybe he should be laterally inducted as Defence Secy for the civilian establishment to have a better understanding of the issues and how to administer India's armed forces!

  7. Few thoughts
    There is no end to the great human quality called greed.
    It's true that when you join army they take your brain, give you the gun and when you leave they take the gun back but don't return your brain
    Much of Indian population is still BPL , country is crippled with farmer suicides , poor health and educational infrastructure, malnutrition, poverty, many remote areas are cut off from rest of the nation by all means
    These retired servicemen are acting like traitors rather than patriots
    I don't think they mean below
    Your country comes first always and every time.
    Well what can we say we have guys like you who are congressi sidekicks !! who take a dig at every government step like barking bull dogs of the fake Gandhi family

  8. NFU is also applicable to all Organised Group A Services, all 46 of them. By a slight of hand, the bureaucracy has ensured that the armed forces has not been considered an'Organised Group A service' of the GoI, but only a 'commissioned service'!!! As if that insult was not enough, the PMF and CAPF are considered Gp A services! Why, even organisations raised purely to function in support of the services like the MES, DRDO, Def Accts Services, Def Estate Offrs and even GREF cadre has been given NFU!! This absolute disgraceful degradation makes blood boil within all those who serve the nation in its armed forces! It is amazing to see an insensitive GoI sitting on a time bomb on such matters. Shame on those who run the system. It is very shameful to see an incompetent senior supine leadership, hardly doing anything to address such issues on priority! The biggest adversary of the Indian Armed Forces is the Goi itself, not Pakistan..nor China!

  9. @ Harry

    Thanks for the observations. I have corrected the post accordingly.

  10. @ Unknown

    Nowhere does it say the civil services have NFU. It says "Category A central services" have NFU. The IAF is not one.

  11. Practical or not, two remedies come to mind:

    1. Remove/Withdraw NFU across the board. How many people know the babu's give themselves these stealth benefits?
    2. Make the Category A numbers pyramidish as well. After 15-20 years, force the bottom 5-6% of every batch to retire every year. Force the laggards, corrupt out, without labeling them as such since it is hard to prove those things.

  12. I think its better for servicemen or retirees to activate their demands forcefully now, through proper channels. Anyway, the Modi govt has agreed to OROP (though with some modifications) so its high time for the protest at Jantar Mantar to end now. The sympathy and goodwill of the people of the nation, which retirees have now, should be cherished and kept in inventory for a future use.

    If the protest drags on, even after the OROP announcement, then the day is not far when entire nation will start losing respect for these demands. Already, 'greed' and 'endless demands' like words have started occurring in the vocabulary, related to the further continuance of the protest. Time to learn lessons and get out before it becomes ugly.

  13. While 6 PC proceedings were still on, Defence top brass refused NFU stating that officers shall lose the charm of rank and thus working and striving for promotions which would effect 'Command and Control'. Bureaucrats or the policy makers who are ever ready for such slips from Defence Services, removed the platter for ever.

    When Armed Forces realised that they have missed the bus they started crying foul. So much so, that they stonewalled the implementation of DACP for their doctors (playing with hand in glove with the same bureaucrats). It is to mention that this DACP is an integral part of 6PC and is applicable to all doctors working under central government, irrespective of organisation or ministry.

    Now the same Defence services have held its doctors for ransom. Implement NFU or else we will not give DACP to our doctors. The matter is subjudice in Supreme Court of India.

  14. The central issues are establishing parity and ending discrimination. OROP has its own rationale which applies to retirees in all ranks of armed forces due to the well known special conditions of their service.

    But OROP would cater, to some extent, for the shorter careers within the armed forces. It does not solve the specific issues arising out of the steep pyramid in the Officer cadre.

    As NFU applies to Group A Officers, there is no reason it should not be applied to Officers of armed forces. The latter have a much greater rate of career-attrition in addition to having shorter career spans. OROP would resolve only some of the issues related to shorter career spans and practically none related to the "steep pyramid".

  15. So the problem is that the IAS/ IFS / civil service types have made themselves a bunch of rules that favor them unduly. Now instead of proclaiming this travesty of nepotism and malfeasance and exposing the systemic perversion of the rules by the civil service - the Armed Forces are protesting for "me too" status ???

    The Armed Forces need to get the stick up their bum about the civil service pay scales out of their system. The Armed Forces are the Armed Forces - they do different things and they are a different class of people. They should ask themselves if the Indian public would shower as much support to the IAS/ IPS etc types for pay scale and OROP as they have done with the Armed Forces ? I think they would not.

    Civil Servants serve the nation in their own way just as the Armed Services - there is no comparison and neither should there be any such. If there's impropriety on one group's part the solution is highlighting that and exposing it - not asking to be also get a slice of the pie for "prestige sake".

  16. @Anonymous :"..instead of proclaiming this travesty of nepotism and malfeasance and exposing the systemic perversion.."

    The question based on realities is, what would that achieve? If there is discrimination, erosion in established inter-se status and glaring disparities then there has to be a resolution of such anomalous states.

    People end up looking pretty ignorant, or clearly malicious, when they moralize without knowing the nuances of these matters, such as what is the relative loss in life-long earning of a person in uniform because of his shorter service span or the unquantifiable relative disadvantages to him in terms of quality of life and security.

  17. This is just to intimate that CAPFs are not getting NFU till date.

  18. IAS baboo recommends and when shown the anomalies sits on judgement, Mera bharat mahan. Jai hind.


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