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Proposal to raise retirement age, slash pensions in Indian armed forces

DEFENCE-ENG-07-11-2020-India

The department of military affairs (DMA) - headed by the chief of defence staff - has proposed to increase the retirement age of officers by one to three years, with a service extension of up to 17 years for the non-officer cadre from select branches, and is also considering a plan to cut pensions of officers opting for premature release from service in an attempt to retain skilled manpower, according to an official communication reviewed by this newspaper.

The increased retirement age of officers will allow colonels, brigadiers and major generals to serve longer, with jawans and junior commissioned officers from some non-combat branches also getting service extension that will see them retire at the age of 57 instead of around 40 to 52.

The proposed cuts in pensions range from 25% to 50% of the entitled pension depending on an officer’s length of service at the time of leaving the job.

While the proposal for service extension has been hailed in military circles as a welcome step, the plan to review pensions has invited criticism from many in the serving and retired community.

The letter, dated October 29, has proposed that colonels would serve till the age of 57 (instead of the current 54), brigadiers up to 58 (up from 56) and major generals till 59 as against the current 58. No change has been proposed in the retirement age of lieutenant generals, it stays at 60.

This applies to equivalent ranks in the air force and the navy but does not cover officers from the medical and nursing wings.

Junior commissioned officers and other ranks from logistics, technical and medical branches will retire at the age of 57 instead of 40 to 52 (depending on the rank).

The proposed pension review is the most significant move under consideration, officials familiar with developments said. Officers who seek premature release after 20-25 years of service will get only 50% of the entitled pension, those leaving after 26 to 30 years will get 60% and officers quitting after 31 to 35 years of service will draw 75% of the entitled pension, according to the letter. Only those with 35-plus years of service will get full pension.

The letter states there are several specialists/super specialists who are trained for highly skilled jobs in the services but quit to work in other sectors. “Such loss of high skilled manpower results in a void in the services skill matrix and is counter-productive to the armed forces. In view of this, it has been decided to review the pension entitlements,” the letter adds.

The communication has set November 10 as the deadline for preparing a draft government sanction letter on increasing retirement age and reviewing pensions for perusal by CDS General Bipin Rawat.

Extension of service is a good step, both for the organisation in retaining quality and trained manpower as also in congruence with individual aspirations, said military affairs expert Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).

“The pension slabs could be an incentive for deadwood to continue which is neither good for the organisation nor does it optimise financial resources. The key issue is that on account of Covid-19 and China’s aggressive behaviour along the Line of Actual Control, the armed forces will be required to do more and more with less and less. There is no choice but to ensure optimal utilisation of the financial resources,” said Bhatia.

The DMA’s proposals will benefit the organisation and meet individual aspirations, said military officials asking not to be identified.

“Almost all colonels and most brigadiers seek re-employment on retirement. On grant of re-employment, highly qualified officers and experts in particular domains are employed in appointments held by captains and majors. This adversely impacts both the organisation and the officer himself whose job satisfaction takes a hit,” the officials said, commenting on the service extension being proposed for officers in these ranks.

On the proposal regarding service extension for the non-officer cadre from non-combat arms, the officials said the military invests time and resources on training technicians to make them capable of undertaking specialised tasks but they come up for retirement when their professional skill is at its peak.

On the cut in pensions, the officials said, “Only officers taking premature release will be affected. Individuals who complete their pensionable age as per terms of engagement are not affected.”

They explained, “If someone becomes an officer at the age of 25 or even more (jawans can become officers even in their late 20s if they clear certain exams and an interview), it doesn’t mean they have to complete 35 years of service for full pension. The cuts will only be applicable to officers to seek early release.”