The Orissa High Court has held that entitlement of an employee or an ex-employee to his salary or pension, as the case may be, is an intrinsic part of his right to life under Article 21 and right to property under Article 300A of the Constitution.
While allowing payment of interest on the arrears of a retired government employee, a Single Bench of Justice Sanjeeb Kumar Panigrahi observed,
"Moreover, the employees cannot be allowed to suffer because of inaction on the part of the employer for no fault of the employees. The employee is definitely entitled to get the payment as per the service conditions on due dates and/or in a given case within reasonable time. The employees, had the payment received within time and/or on due dates, could have utilised the same for various purposes."
The petitioner joined service as the Headmaster in Panchayat High School, Chandanbhati, in the district of Bolangir, which was a non-government aided educational institution. However, the school was taken over by the Government with effect from 07.06.1994 and, thus, the petitioner was rendering his services as a government servant till his superannuation on 28.02.2001.
It was submitted on behalf of the petitioner that being a 74-year-old man, he was made to run from pillar to post to get his legitimate dues but owing to administrative latches, the same could not materialize. Therefore, it was claimed, the redressal of grievance of the petitioner would remain incomplete if he were to be denied of the interest component that is payable to him as a result of delay.
The grievance of the petitioner, insofar as payment of arrears was concerned, had already been redressed but the interest component of the amount which had been held up for the last twenty-one years, was required to be paid. Hence, he filed this petition.
The Court, at the outset, observed that it is well-settled that salaries and pensions are due as a matter of right to employees and also to the former employees who have served the State. Since, the petitioner rendered his services till superannuation as a government servant, his entitlement to the payment of salary is intrinsic to the right to life under Article 21 and to right to property which is recognized by Article 300A of the Constitution.
The Court then quoted the Apex Court, which in the case of State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr v. Smt. Dinavahi Lakshmi Kameswari, held,
"The direction for the payment of the deferred portions of the salaries and pensions is unexceptionable. Salaries are due to the employees of the State for services rendered. Salaries in other words constitute the rightful entitlement of the employees and are payable in accordance with law. Likewise, it is well settled that the payment of pension is for years of past service rendered by the pensioners to the State. Pensions are hence a matter of a rightful entitlement recognised by the applicable rules and regulations which govern the service of the employees of the State."
It then acknowledged that the payment in favour of the petitioner was withheld for insufficient reasons. There was no material justification to take such time for fixing arrears of the petitioner. On this undisputed position, the court did not incline to accept the submissions of the Opposite Party regarding non-payment of interest due to absence of any specific provisions in the service conditions.
Further, it held that the late decision taken by the opposite party is attributable to administrative latches across different levels and the same cannot be the reason to withhold the payment to the employees who admittedly worked at the relevant time. It stressed, the fact remains that there was delay in making payment of arrears of salary and other benefits, thus, with or without intention, is immaterial. In view of the admitted position on record that the payment was not made on due dates according to service conditions, there is no disputed question of facts involved, it added.
The Court then cited D.D. Tewari v. Uttar Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam Limited & Ors., wherein the Supreme Court held that denial of interest from the date of entitlement till the date of actual disbursement would take away the valuable rights of the retired government servant. It was reiterated in that decision that pension and gratuity are not bounty to be distributed by the government to its employees on their retirement, but are valuable rights and property in its hands and any culpable delay in settlement and disbursement thereof is to be visited with penalty of payment of interest.
The court formed the considered opinion that as there was a delay in the payment of arrears of salary for which the petitioner was not at all responsible, he is entitled to the interest on the delayed payment. Because of the administrative latches, there was a delay in the payment of arrears of salary and/or settling the dues and hence, the retired employee should not be made to suffer for no fault of his, it held.
Applying the ratio laid down by the Supreme Court in various cases to the facts of this case, the Court observed, there was a delay of about 21 years in settling the salary arrears payable to the petitioner. Even after multiple representations to the opposite party, the petitioner's claim was not entertained, owing to the callous attitude of the opposite party. Therefore, the Court held that the delay on the part of the opposite party in settling the arrears of salary payable to the petitioner for about 21 years purportedly due to administrative latches cannot be accepted. It lamented,
"The present case is a clear example of inexcusable departmental delay. Even if it is assumed that the representations made by the petitioner were actively catered to, this cannot be an excuse for lethargy of the department because rules/instructions provide for initiation of process much before retirement. The exercise which was to be completed much before retirement was in fact started long after petitioner's retirement."
Consequently, the Court, having regard for the decision of the Supreme Court in State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr v. Smt. Dinavahi Lakshmi Kameswari (supra), directed the State to pay simple interest to the petitioner, computed at the rate of 6% per annum on account of deferred salaries within a period of 30 days from the date of the order.
Accordingly, the petition was allowed.
Case Title: Sovakar Guru v. State of Odisha & Ors.
Case No.: WPC(OA) No. 1553 of 2017
Judgment Dated: 27th May 2022
Coram: Justice S.K. Panigrahi
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr. P. Mohapatra, Advocate
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr. Sonak Mishra, Standing Counsel
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ori) 89