Supreme Court allowed the Centre time till February 2024 to pay army pensioners their arrears under the One Rank One Pension (OROP) Scheme. The top court’s decision came after the Defence Ministry said it was unable to clear the dues in one go within the stipulated time. The Centre missed its deadline for clearing arrears amounting to ₹28,000 crores to ex-servicemen for the years 2019-2022.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court directed:
- Family pensioners and gallantry award winners must be paid in a single installment by April 30, 2023
- Pensioners above 70 years of age must be paid on or before June 30, 2023. The payments may be done in a single installment or may be staggered keeping June 30 as the outer limit
- Last tranche of remaining arrears will be paid in equal installments on or before August 31, November 30, and February 28, 2023
The top court noted the Attorney General’s submission that this would not affect the computation of dues for the purposes of the next equalization which takes place every five years.
The bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, along with Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala considered the Centre’s submission which said that of 25 lakh pensioners, four lakh do not qualify for OROP. “Total number of pensioners, therefore, fall in the range of 21 lakhs. Union government has said that it would pay six lakh pensioners by 30 April 2023,” the bench noted in its order.
The court’s decision came on a plea filed by ex-servicemen complaining about the delay in payment of their pension under the OROP scheme.
Resource limited, cannot pay arrears in one go: Centre to SC
Centre told Supreme Court that resources were limited and it was unable to clear the arrears in one go. Seeking an extension of time, Attorney General said, “Budget outlay is not able to meet this huge outflow at one go. Resource is limited and expense needs to be regulated…”.
The Finance Ministry was taken into confidence and said it is unable to meet this outflow at one go,” Attorney General R Venkataramani added.
The Supreme Court also expressed its displeasure at the Centre’s attempt to submit the compliance note in a sealed cover. “I am personally averse to sealed covers. There must be transparency in court. This is about implementing orders. What can be the secrecy here,” CJI Chandrachud had said stressing the need to end the system of sealed covers.
“Sealed covers are completely against settled judicial principles and they can be resorted to only when it is about a source or endangering someone's life. Not otherwise,” CJI CHandrachud had said. What happens in the SC is followed by the high courts as well, the top judge pointed out.
The apex court on March 14 had directed the Defence Ministry to withdraw its January 20 circular which said arrears would be paid in four half-yearly installments. “The Defence ministry cannot take the law in its hand…Withdraw the communication of January 20 which is directly contrary to our order… or will ask the Secretary, Defence to present himself in court,” CJI Chandrachud had said.
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