27 Feb 2023 12:46 PM GMT
The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its displeasure at the action of Ministry of Defence of unilaterally extending the deadline for payment of pension to retired armed forces personnel under the One Rank One Pension Scheme (OROP) in contradiction of the Court's order. While warning the Ministry of Defence that the Apex Court would issue a notice of contempt against the Secretary of...
The Supreme Court on Monday expressed its displeasure at the action of Ministry of Defence of unilaterally extending the deadline for payment of pension to retired armed forces personnel under the One Rank One Pension Scheme (OROP) in contradiction of the Court's order. While warning the Ministry of Defence that the Apex Court would issue a notice of contempt against the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence lest it withdrew the communication extending the deadline, the court asked the Secretary of Ministry of Defence to file a personal affidavit elaborating upon why it took the unilateral decision. The matter was heard before a bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice JB Pardiwala.
In its last hearing, the Supreme Court had asked the Central Government to comply with its earlier order to disburse the arrears to eligible pensioners of the armed forces by March 15, 2023. However, through a communication dated January 20, 2023, the Ministry extended the deadline for the payment of arrears and decided to pay the same in four equal half-yearly installments.
CJI DY Chandrachud taking exception to the same asked–
"We give you extension till 15th of March 2023. Now, in the face of our order of ninth of January 2023, how can you issue a communication of 20th January that you will pay the arrears in half yearly instalments? Let the secretary of defence approach the court and tell us why we should not take an action against him."
Additional Solicitor General Venkataramanan, on behalf of the Union, submitted–
"Out of 22 lakh pensioners, we have already given 8 lakh pensioners, post your order, around 2500 crores. Our instructions are that by 31st March, family pensioners we want to make a one time settlement- we'll pay the arrears one time. For rest of the pensioners, we need to make it in standard payments."
However, CJI DY Chandrachud was not convinced and stated that if the communication in question is not withdrawn, the court will issue a notice of contempt to the Ministry of defence. He said–
"Our judgement is almost a year old. We gave you extensions. We have extended time from June 2022 to March 2023. You have paid family pensioners but you also have to pay everyone else. You tell the secretary that we are going to take action against him for issuing that communication of 20th January. He better withdraw it before the next day. The sanctity of the judicial process has to be maintained. Either the secretary withdraws the communication of 20th January or we will be constrained to issue a notice of contempt to the Ministry of defence."
Expressing his discontent, CJI Chandarchud added–
"You have no business of taking the law into your own hands. We have fixed 15th March. You have no business to say that now 20th January, we're going to do this in four equal half-yearly installments. Here you are not fighting a war. Here, you are fighting the battle under the rule of law. You better set your house in order. This is not a way for the ministry of defence to go about it."
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the army personnel, furthered his arguments by stating–
"Your lordships said implement within three months. Your lordships also noted that this amount had to be actually paid by 2019 November. So already from 2019 to 2022 they have extended. As per their own policy all arrears had to be paid. If you remember their submissions, they always said that they were on the verge of finishing it. Now see the gall of the gentlemen issuing this communication of 20th January. He give himself the power to modify your lordships order. This is extremely telling. 4 lakh pensioners have passed away in the interregnum and they will never get the benefits. They are retired army personnels and they have repeatedly requested."
Following this, the bench passed an order seeking response from the Secretary of Ministry of Defence in the matter. CJI DY Chandrachud, dictating the order, said–
"Defence Ministry Secretary to the pension scheme is directed to file a personal affidavit on why this unilateral direction passed when Supreme Court had passed orders."
Case Title: Indian ex servicemen movement & Ors v UOI MA 1590/2022 in W.P.(C) No. 419/2016
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