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New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on March 16, Wednesday that one rank, one pension (OROP) in the armed forces is a policy decision of the government and suffers from no constitutional infirmity.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath said the Union government’s policy decision of OROP is not arbitrary and it is not for the court to go into the policy matters of the government.
It said that there’s no legal mandate that pensioners who hold the same rank must be given the same pension.
It directed that the pending re-fixation exercise of OROP, which has not been done due to pendency of matter before the court after the expiry of five years, should be carried out from July 1, 2019, and arrears be paid to the pensioners in three months.
OROP meant a uniform pension would be paid to retired servicemen of the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement.
According to the Hindu, the petition, which was filed by the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM), had alleged that OROP had led to the creation of a separate class among personnel equally situated in “rank” and “length of service”.
The Union government had told the Supreme Court in February that both “same rank” and “same length of service” are necessary conditions for availing of OROP benefits.
“This pair (‘same rank’ and ‘same length of service’) cannot be impaired. One cannot take only the same rank and ignore the length of service and similarly one cannot merely take the length of service. It is important to highlight that the expression ‘same’ appears twice as ‘same rank’ and ‘same length of service’,” it had said.
The Union government had said that it has not discriminated between defence personnel in the same rank with the same length of service, while framing the OROP policy; however, the petitioners are seeking OROP on merely the same rank, overlooking the same length of service.
The petition had also challenged the Union government’s stand that equalisation of pension would happen periodically every five years.
The petition had contended that a gap of five years would leave them at a great disadvantage. They said periodic equalisation would “cause great injustice to 24 lakh ex-servicemen, 6.5 lakh war widows and veteran widows and their families by creating a situation of One Rank Different Pension’.
The Koshiyari Committee, headed by BJP leader Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, had recommended annual revision under OROP. On July 11, 2016, the top court had issued a notice on the plea filed by IEMS seeking implementation of OROP as recommended by the Koshyari Committee with an automatic annual revision, instead of the current policy of periodic review once in five years.
In February 2014, in a meeting chaired by the defence minister, OROP was defined as: “One Rank One Pension (OROP) implies that uniform pension be paid to the Armed Forces Personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in the rates of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners. This implies bridging the gap between the rate of pension of the current pensioners and the past pensioners and also of future enhancements in the rate of pension to be automatically passed on to the past pensioners.”
However, according to a letter written in 2011 by the Joint Secretary of Ex-Servicemen Welfare in the Ministry of Defence to the three service chiefs, OROP was defined as a uniform payment of pension to retired servicemen “retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of the date of retirement, which implies bridging the gap between the rates of pension of current and past pensioners at periodic intervals.” This ‘tweaked’ definition led to the ongoing litigation.
The original definition envisioned “automatic bridging”, whereas the new definition implies “periodic bridging at intervals”.
As per a NewsClick report, this will lead pensioners to wait for the expiry of an interval before receiving their enhanced pension, raising further questions over payment of arrears.
(With inputs from PTI)