Friday, June 9, 2023

Supreme Court seeks Defence Ministry roadmap on payment of OROP arrears by next week

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The Supreme Court has directed the Ministry of Defence to provide a roadmap for the payment of arrears under the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme by next week. 

The Bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha and Justice JB Pardiwala have instructed the Defence Secretary to explain whether the January order by the ministry extending time for payment of arrears was withdrawn as it was violative of the top court’s previous directions. 

The CJI asked the Attorney General to ensure the Defence Ministry does not attempt to take the law into its own hands.

The Bench also underscored that its only concern was that the former army personnel received the amount. 

The top court instructed the Ministry to put on record a note on Monday, detailing how much was left, what was the prioritisation, besides taking into consideration oldest people above the age of 75 years and widows.

During the last hearing, the Supreme Court had taken strong exception to the decision by the Ministry of Defence for unilaterally extending the payment of arrears deadline for paying the retired armed forces personnel under the One Rank One Pension Scheme (OROP) against the top court’s order.

A bench consisting CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha and Justice JB Pardiwala had instructed the Defence Secretary to file a personal affidavit explaining why a unilateral direction was passed by the Ministry after the order by the Supreme Court for clearance of payments by March this year.

This year, the ministry had issued a communication for payments to be made in four equal instalments.

The issues stems from the March 2022 judgment in which the top court had upheld the OROP scheme introduced by the Central government through its notification of November 7, 2015.

In the judgement, the Apex Court had, however, said that if a refixation exercise takes place, it  must be conducted by the government for a period of 5 years with regard to pension payable to Army personnel as stated in the OROP policy in accordance with the November 7, 2015 notification.

It had then said that the arrears should be paid within 3 months. 

The same was later extended by another 3 months in September 2022 and in January 2023. During the last hearing, the Court had granted another extension and directed that the payment should be made by March 15.

The Centre issued a notice of payments to be made quarterly in four installments.

Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, who appeared for the affected personnel, asked how could the government unilaterally alter the deadline set by the Court.

The Counsel said how can department modify the order by the court that affects so many people. He added that 4 lakh pensioners passed away in the interregnum and they cannot claim pension. The CJI was also not impressed by the Defence Ministry’s actions. 

The CJI then said that this is not a war but under the rule of law, so get the things going lest court issues a contempt notice to the Ministry of Defence. The bench then sought the response from the Secretary.

The order said the Defence Secretary should file a personal affidavit on why this unilateral direction was put out when Supreme Court had passed orders.

The Court also cautioned that interest at the rate of 9 percent will have to be paid if arrears are not cleared by March 15.

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