The watered down version of One Rank One Pension (OROP) that has been notified suffers from grave infirmities and is not in consonance with the definition approved by Parliament. Also, the directions of the Supreme Court in the case of Maj. Gen. S.P.S. Vains (Retd) and others, that lays down guiding principles required to be observed with regard to military pensions, have not been followed. While this issue needs speedy resolution, the Prime Minister must also consider the potential of veterans, which could be an enabler in furtherance of his plans to develop India.
At present, there are approximately 25 lakh veterans, with another 50,000 joining their ranks annually — most in their mid-30s or early 40s. As majority of these veterans spend large portions of their service career away from home and family, they tend to be reluctant to move away from their villages to look for second careers. Given that it is rural areas that face challenges with availability of skilled manpower and last mile connectivity, this resource, if properly harnessed, the veteran community can be a game-changer and the difference between success and failure of Mr Modi’s development initiative.
The government could look at the manner in which the United States has institutionalised its handling of military veterans to utilise their full potential, given that it has approximately 19 million veterans today. In 1930, President Herbert Hoover consolidated all different departments providing benefits to military veterans, creating the Veterans Administration tasked to “consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans”. This was elevated to a cabinet-level executive department by President Ronald Reagan and renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its importance can be gauged from President George H.W. Bush’s statement: “There is only one place for the Veterans of America, in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America.”
In addition, in 1944, the US Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, known informally as the GI Bill. This legislation provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as GIs). Benefits included low-cost mortgages, lowinterest loans to start a business, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend university, high school or vocational education, as well as one year of unemployment compensation. By 1956, roughly eight million veterans had availed of these benefits. This was enlarged in scope in 1966 to include all veterans and continues to be the mainstay of legislation providing benefits to retiring servicemen. Historians and economists judge this legislation to be a major political and economic success, especially in contrast to the treatments of World War I veterans, and a major contribution to America’s stock of human capital that enhanced long-term economic growth.
In India, we have the Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare under the Ministry of Defence. Over the years this department has come to be universally detested by veterans, not least for the callous treatment that it hands out, but also for all manner of impediments that it creates. Mr Modi has an opportunity to transform and upgrade this institutional framework on the lines of the US Department of Veteran Affairs, ideally placing it directly under a minister with cabinet rank. The Government needs to recognise that resettlement and rehabilitation of veterans is an important facet of governance that impacts the morale and functioning of serving soldiers. There is a necessity to look beyond just providing veterans with enhanced pensions or reservations in Government departments, but to explore ways in which their expertise, knowledge and skill can be harnessed for nation building. Their sense of patriotism and their discipline, experience, skills and initiative can add value to our attempts to improve our economy.
The writer is a military veteran serving as a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation. A version of this article appeared in The Pioneer, Thursday, 26 November 2015.