Explained: Why The Current OROP Arrangement Will Lead To A Bloated Officer Cadre In The Army

by Syed Ata Hasnain - Nov 12, 2015 02:20 AM +05:30 IST
Explained: Why The Current OROP Arrangement Will Lead To A Bloated Officer Cadre In The Army

The current OROP structure does not provide for OROP to officers retiring prematurely. Read on to understand why this will adversely affect the army’s structure and functioning.

Even Prime Minister Nehru thought he knew everything which was good for national security, until…well until it hit him squarely in 1962. He had ventured to ignore his military, condemn it to the back rooms at the cost of a police force which he thought was sufficient for securing the nation. The Chinese delivered a lesson wrapped in the form of a military defeat for India which continues to affect our collective psyche.

History is seldom learnt by nations and leaders, especially regarding issues concerning the complicated management of Armed Forces. The latter are not some corporate house or public sector undertaking. They have awkward organizations, not easily understood and even more complex personnel management issues. Yet, leaders continue to ignore that and take decisions which are detrimental to long term health of the organization and thus to national security.

The reference for the above observations is the recently notified grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) which sanctions the same for all personnel earning pension including those who proceeded on pre-mature retirement voluntarily and yet denies it to those who will prospectively choose this route to exit the service in future through premature retirement (PMR). The government may have its reservations on pension review every year, the quantum of outflow due to that, the intricacies of calculations etc but all that is negotiable as it does not have a direct bearing on the operational efficiency of the armed forces.

I am not looking at any other clause related to OROP but PMR as this is a case of sheer inability to understand the dynamics of personnel management and its effect. No IIM graduate or management consultant of repute can ever gauge the intricacies which make up military personnel management. Ninety percent officers of the Armed Forces themselves do not understand the nuances and prefer to ignore them.

Some basics are necessary to educate the public and decision makers alike. The Army (and other two Services) is a pyramidal organization both at the officer and the jawan level. Jawans get promoted by selection and accordingly can become non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or junior commissioned officers (JCOs). Appointments for NCOs and JCOs are obviously lesser than the total number of jawans; that means all jawans cannot be promoted. Retiring ages increase based upon the rank achieved as an NCO and then JCO. Jawans who do not get promoted serve the color service of 15 years and have an option to extend their service commitment to 17 years before they compulsorily exit. Jawans and NCOs/JCOs earn pension once they put in minimum 15 years of service. Mostly after 15 years if a jawan/NCO applies for PMR, it will be due to family problems which he cannot resolve while on active service. He goes home with a pension.

It is this pension that the government does not want to include as part of OROP because the jawan/NCO has moved out voluntarily. They forget that he has completed his contracted service, may not get a job at all, and may be stuck with family problems for ever. It is a misnomer and a flawed imagination that jawans exit by PMR to obtain better jobs. Do they not deserve OROP for the marginally lower quantum of service they render? The issue of cadre management does not apply as much to the jawans/NCOs/JCOs; it is just the welfare element and that is as important. No denying that.

Coming to officers, the pyramidal structure applies here more appropriately as does cadre management. Officers are commissioned in the rank of Lieutenant (Lt) and get promoted as per service, provided they have passed requisite examinations and successfully undergone the Young officers Course of their Arm/ Service. This happens till 13 years of service when officers get promoted to the rank of Lt Col. Thereafter it is a process of selection for the rank of Colonel and above. Obviously the structure of units and staff is such that there are gradually reducing vacancies as the ranks goes higher. For promotion from Lt Col to Col by selection only a limited number get selected; that figure varies as per Arm/Service and is subject of the Supreme Court case currently being fought by some officers for higher percentage of vacancies. However, that complicates this issue and is not referred further.

At the best approximately 55 percent Lt Cols promote to Colonel at an average of 16 years of service. Three looks are given for promotion but second and third looks are more cosmetic. This means by 18 years’ service or so, 45 percent Lt Cols and much more in case of some Arms/Services reach their last rank. At current rates of commissioning of 2200 per year, this translates to approximately 1000 to 1300 officers who reach last rank at 18 years of service.

Presuming average age of commissioning as 22 and retirement age for Lt Cols as 54, these overlooked/non-empanelled officers will serve an average of 14 years after being considered finally unfit for promotion. With a rotation policy of 2-3 years it means 5-6 postings and a commensurate number of appointments suited to their rank, status, specialization and social needs of not serving under officers junior to them. This is extremely difficult to manage in terms of cadre management and any glitches have a resultant effect on efficiency, discipline and morale.

The presence of a large number of non-empanelled officers in the cadre is always detrimental to the overall good of the service; hypothetically promotable or overlooked officers are all obliged to put in their best for the pay they earn but that is an idealistic view; functionally things do not work that way. Thus it is good to encourage non empanelled officers to leave the service voluntarily on final non empanelment at and after 18 years of service. There is no compulsion in this as the terms of service at the time of entry permit an officer service till age of 54 years, and more if he is promoted.

Some armies have a rule called ‘up or out’. This means compulsory exit after having held a rank for a pre-determined duration (mostly 4 years). In that case a non-empanelled officer is eased out of service after having held the rank for 4 years. Fresh intake is thus necessitated which keeps the cadre young and motivated. With low job opportunities in India this system has not been adopted so that officers are not left unemployed very early.

The irony is that officers from technical arms such as Corps of Signals are trained to a great degree but all cannot be absorbed in progressively senior ranks. Therefore many qualified officers who do not get promoted remain in service with appointments lower than their self-esteem permits.

With the OROP notification laying down that there will be no revision of pension for personnel leaving service prematurely, it virtually dictates that non empanelled officers would have no motivation to leave service to make way for younger intake and would continue serving the average residual 14 years till they retire at the authorized retiring age of 54 years. This applies as much to the non-empanelled Colonels and Brigadiers who would have been overlooked for promotion at ranks higher than Lt Col and would have marginally shorter durations to serve in non-empanelled status.

We need to remember that the Kargil Review Committee headed by Late Mr K Subramaniam had strongly felt that the age profile of officers be reduced and had held the higher age profile of Indian Army officers as one of the reasons for lower efficiency during Operation Vijay. The Ajay Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC) recommended increase of appointments — 20 Lt Gens, 75 Maj Gens, 222 Brigadiers and 1450 Cols — so that promotions could be speeded up. This was achieved gradually but as age profiles of ranks reduced the length of service of non-empanelled officers increased. Earlier Lt Cols were promoted at 20 years of service and officers were finally non-empanelled at 22/23 years’ service. With the AV Singh Committee appointments this got reduced to 15 years of service and 18 years respectively making the duration of service in non-empanelled status much longer.

It helps the system that officers not cleared for promotion leave service early so that a fresh intake is ensured. Now with new rules of OROP no non-empanelled officer will wish to lose the benefit of OROP and the cadre will remain bloated with these officers remaining in service till the last day of their contractual period.

Perhaps the government considered that with current shortages of officers it would be prudent to retain trained manpower. This is short sighted because the cadre strength is now improving (by 5 percent or so in the last three years) and once optimum cadre strength is reached the presence of disproportionately large strength of non-empanelled officers in the system will be detrimental to the Army. The government has to realize this. Perhaps it has just not consulted cadre managers of the Army.

The AVSC recommendations had specifically been approved by the Cabinet of the time. It categorically called for the Peel Factor (lateral absorption) to be introduced. This meant that a certain number of vacancies in Central Government organizations/services would henceforth be reserved to allow lateral absorption of some officers, especially those who could not be adjusted for promotion due to compulsions of the pyramidal cadre. The status of the recommendations remains approved to date but the same could not be executed due to lack of energy, interest, persuasion and obstinacy of other government services.

If this part of the recommendations has not been executed the government has little justification to differentiate between PMR cases and those who serve the full service. In many ways both, the failure of Peel Factor (lateral absorption scheme) and the lack of application of OROP to PMR cases prospectively, will ensure that a bloated cadre of non-empanelled officers continues thus having a negative effect on the efficiency of the Army.

OROP has been long in coming but it fails to meet the aspirations of the veterans as per definitions of the Supreme Court and the Koshiyari Committee. One can foresee another long bout of agitation and negotiation or perhaps legal recourse. That as it may be will definitely take a lot of time and patience. However, the PMR issue is simply non- implementable and the earlier the government gives a professional look the better. An ex Director General Manpower Planning (DGMP) could be a good consultant for the exercise of bringing realism to final effect.

The writer is a former GOC of India’s Srinagar based 15 Corps, now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

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