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Supreme Court to Defence Ministry: ‘Withdraw notice on One Rank One Pension arrears’

In light of the fact that more than 4 lakh pensioners have died since the OROP litigation began in 2016, the court also requested that the defense ministry remove its communication right away.

The Supreme Court said on Monday that the Ministry of Defense cannot change the law by “unilaterally” announcing that pensioners in the armed forces who owe One Rank-One Pension (OROP) arrears will be paid in four installments and requesting a payment plan by March 20.

The court also asked the defense ministry to immediately withdraw its communication and instructed Attorney General R Venkataramani to prepare a note detailing the amount of payment to be paid, the modalities to be adopted, and the priority segment, noting that over four lakh pensioners have died since the OROP litigation began in 2016. The communication from January 20, 2023 stated that the OROP arrears would be paid to former service members in four equal installments.

The court made the observation that the defense ministry’s communication on January 20 was “directly contrary” to its verdict on March 16, 2022, which directed payment of the entire arrears within three months, and that the ministry cannot unilaterally declare that it will pay the OROP arrears in four installments.

During the hearing on Monday, the attorney general said that the Center had paid some pensioners and would pay the rest of them one installment of OROP arrears by March 31, but needed more time to do so.

A bench composed of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justices PS Narasimha, and JB Pardiwala sternly advised Venkataramani, “First withdraw (your) January 20 notification on payment of OROP arrears, then we will consider your application for time.”

“Assume control over giving such correspondence on installment of OROP unpaid debts in four portions. The communication of January 20 directly contradicts our verdict.”

The seat let Venkataramani know that the worry of the court is that ex-servicemen get their sum at the earliest and there ought not be any postpone in installment of the unfulfilled obligations particularly the people who are over 60-70 years.

“We want to see some sort of classification, with older people receiving the arrears payments first,” Since the litigation began, more than four lakh pensioners have died.

It set the matter up for a second hearing on March 20 and instructed the Center to provide specific information in a note by that time.

Venkataramani stated that he is in direct communication with the ministry regarding the payment of the arrears; however, the government must examine the entire fiscal situation and that there are numerous operational obstacles due to the large number of 25 lakh ex-servicemen.

“After the organization outline was ready and last screening by the service north of seven lakh beneficiaries have been paid the overdue debts”, he said.

Speaking on behalf of the ex-servicemen’s association, senior attorney Huzefa Ahmadi stated that the government has repeatedly sought an extension of time to pay the arrears and that four lakh pensioners have already passed away since the original OROP petition was filed in 2016.

According to the OROP formula, equalization will be held every five years, as this court has confirmed. The ministry wants the 2019 arrears equalization to be paid off in four installments starting in 2024. Another year of equalization will be 2024. I would rather not say a lot yet they have cash for different things however don’t have cash for these ex-servicemen, who are exclusively reliant upon their benefits”, he said.

The Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM), represented by attorney Balaji Srinivasan, has filed an application with the Supreme Court in which it seeks to set aside the defense ministry’s communication from January 20.

In the mean time, the Middle has moved an application looking for alteration of the February 27 request, which had requested that the Middle consider reviewing of the January 20 correspondence of the service of guard.

“On February 20, 2023, the Controller General of Defence Accounts informed that they have carried out revision in regard to 11.21 lakh ex-servicemen pensioners, that payment of arrears on account of OROP revision has been paid for 7.99 lakhs, and that the process is underway for revision and payment of the first instalment for the remaining pensioners from the estimated number of 25 lakh.”

It stated that 7.99 lakh pensioners had received Rs 2,490 crore in February 2023, and by March 9, 2023, an additional Rs 2,400 crore had been distributed to approximately 5 lakh pensioners.

“It is submitted that the first phase of the exercise would be completed by the end of March 2023, and after revising the pension of all 25 lakh pensioners, pension to the tune of Rs 7,000 crore would be credited to approximately 21 lakh eligible ex-servicemen.”

According to the government, approximately Rs 28,000 crore will be distributed to 25 lakh pensioners whose cases have outstanding arrears. It added that imposing such a massive financial burden all at once will disrupt the allocations that have already been made for other public purposes, which may not be in the nation’s best interest, particularly at the fiscal year’s end in 2022–23.

It stated that the top court had upheld the OROP formula of the Centre in its verdict last year and that the communication of November 7, 2015 does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity.

According to the Center, the policy communication from November 7, 2015, paragraph 3(IV) clearly states that arrears will be paid in four equal half-yearly installments, with the exception of special/liberalized family pension and gallantry award recipients, for whom arrears will be paid in one installment.

In accordance with paragraph 3(IV) of the policy communication dated November 7, 2015, it stated that the government had a sincere belief that arrears needed to be paid. The Centre claimed that the January 20 communication was not sent with the slightest intent to disobey, disrespect, or dishonor the court’s orders and directions.

It also stated that, as a prudent fiscal measure, the government has a policy of paying any arrears in installments. This is typically done for DA (Dearness Allowance) arrears and was included in the original OROP policy of 2015, which this court upheld.

The top court brought the defense ministry to task on February 27 for delaying the payment of OROP arrears to eligible armed forces pensioners. The court wanted an explanation from the secretary in question for sending the communication that extended the deadline for payments set by the court.

The top court gave the Centre until March 15 to pay the OROP’s total arrears on January 9. However, the ministry announced on January 20 that the arrears would be settled in four annual installments.


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