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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Not so good news from the Supreme Court for pre-1996 retiree Majors with 21 years of service

There is unfortunate news from the Supreme Court with respect to the case of pre-1996 retired Majors with 21 years of service who had claimed the pension of Lt Col and whose cases were allowed by various benches of the Armed Forces Tribunal.

The Supreme Court, while hearing certain appeals filed by the Government and others filed by some affected officers, has held that the said benefit is not available to those who retired prior to 1996. It may be recalled that the controversy had emerged from the situation wherein Majors who retired with 21 years or more commissioned service after 01-01-1996 had been granted the pension as admissible to the rank of Lt Col, while those who retired prior to 01-01-1996 with similar length of service, were being paid the pension of a Major. 

The Supreme Court has agreed with the arguments of the Union of India that the stipulation of grant of the scale of Lt Col to Majors with 21 years or more service was only available to those who were in service as on 01-01-1996 as per the Govt orders issued in 1997 and it dealt with pay and not pension and that also the Govt had itself equalized pensions of pre-1996 and post-1996 retirees in the year 1999. The Court has also relied upon an earlier decision in Col BJ Akkara Vs Union of India of the year 2006 in reaching the said conclusion.

I however personally feel that the following aspects were not placed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court during the course of the examination of the issue:

A.    The anomaly did not actually flow from the Govt letter on pay of the year 1997 but emanated from later letters issued in the years 2012, 2013 and 2015 (with financial effect from 2006) wherein it was provided that Majors with 21 years of service who retired between 1996 and 2006 would be granted the pension of a Lt Col while those who retired prior to 1996 would continue receiving the pension of a Major. Hence, the controversy did extend to pension and was not restricted to pay.

B.    The equalization of pension as professed by the Govt of India before the Supreme Court came to an end with effect from 2006, that is, from the 6th Central Pay Commission regime. As on date, the basic pension of Majors with 21 years of service retiring after 1996 is Rs 81,502 while those retiring prior to 1996 is Rs 58,673. Hence the pension equation letter of 1999 cited by the Govt before the Court became redundant with effect from 2006 based upon the above mentioned pension letters issued in the years 2012, 2013 and 2015 which were not brought to the knowledge of the Court. Till the 6th Central Pay Commission, there was no disparity or negligible disparity due to overlapping scales. There has been no discussion or argument on the fact of issuance of letters issued by the Govt at later stages disturbing the equalisation of pension. The net result is the difference of pension, not pay, as reflected by the above figures. The net result also is that officers of the same rank retiring with the same length of service but during different periods have been saddled with a vast difference in pensions.

C.   In Col BJ Akkara’s case, relied upon by the Govt, the Govt had not placed full facts before the Court and the said case was later distinguished by the Supreme Court itself in Civil Appeal 10640/2013 KC Bajaj Vs Union of India decided on 27-11-2013 when the Court came down heavily upon the Govt for its incorrect stand and also for not projecting the correct facts. After this decision, the effect of Col BJ Akkara’s case was then nullified by the Govt itself by issuing letters granting the benefit to affected pre and post 1996 retirees based upon the later ruling of the Supreme Court in KC Bajaj’s case. The benefits were also extended to those officers of the defence services who were earlier refused the same after the decision in Col BJ Akkara’s case. This issue was explained earlier in this blog here. The later decision in KC Bajaj’s case has not been brought to the notice of the Court.

D.   The Court has not been apprised of the similar decision in Civil Appeal 1123/2015 State of Rajasthan Vs Mahendra Nath Sharma decided on 01-07-2015 which dealt with a similar controversy of pensioners of the State of Rajasthan wherein the issue was decided in favour of pensioners where also the State was claiming that the benefits were only applicable to pensioners who were in service on a particular date in the State.

The important points as above were argued and considered in various decisions by the Chandigarh Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, including in the case titled Maj Tarlok Singh Vs Union of India (not challenged by the Govt till now), but were perhaps not before the Hon’ble Supreme Court since the judgements that the Apex Court was examining did not have these arguments or issues on record. As things stand now, the Supreme Court decision is binding on all authorities till the time perhaps the matter again reaches the Supreme Court in other decisions decided in favour of pensioners, as and when those are challenged by the Govt, and when all points can be brought before the Hon’ble Court in the right perspective by those representing the parties.

Also, to clarify, this decision however currently affects only pre-1996 retiree Majors with 21 years of service and not those Majors who retired between 01-01-1996 and 14-01-2000 with 20 years of service and were not granted the benefits of the rank of Lt Col due to late issuance of the Govt letter on 14-01-2000 and who were granted relief on judicial intervention. The said category of officers is not affected by this judgement.

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