Things have come full circle when the Supreme Court confronted the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the delay in the payment of one rank-one pension (OROP) arrears to the military pensioners. The delays impact more than 25 lakh pensioners who fought a long battle in the apex court for their rights under the OROP scheme.
Recently, in scathing remarks over the incessant delays, the Supreme Court sought an explanation from the Defence Secretary for unilaterally extending the timeline for payments fixed by the court.
Over the tardy implementation, the Supreme Court issued the final dictum to the Defence Accounts Department (DAD) for releasing payments before March 15. The DAD is controlled by the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA). According to the verdict, the payment has to be disbursed in a single instalment. The matter was heard before a bench comprising the Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice JB Pardiwala.
However, the larger question is about the sordid state of affairs on the implementation even after the exhaustive trials and final verdict which went over decades. The warning was stark enough to issue a notice of contempt against the Defence Secretary that it must withdraw the communication on the extended timeline on arrears.
“Our judgement is almost a year old. We gave you extensions. We have extended the time from June 2022 to March 2023. You tell the secretary that we are going to take action against him for issuing that communication on 20 January. He better withdraw it before the next day. The sanctity of the judicial process has to be maintained,” the CJI said.
He added: “We will be constrained to issue a notice of contempt to the Ministry of defence.”
The tardy implementation
OROP implies that uniform pension is paid to the armed forces personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service regardless of their date of retirement. Basically, it is about bridging the gap between the rate of pension of the current pensioners and the past pensioners.
The workable solutions include that the past pensioners would be re-fixed on the basis of the pension of retirees of the calendar year 2013 and the benefit will be effective from 2014.
Defence pensioners who retired in 2014, including family pensioners will receive benefits from OROP. According to the MoD data, the yearly recurring expenditure on account of OROP is about Rs 7,123.38 crores. Starting from July 2014, the total expenditure was over Rs 42,740 crore.
The revised order stated that payment of arrears would be paid in four equal half-yearly instalments, while the family pensioners, special or liberalized pension and all gallantry award winners would be paid arrears in one instalment as decided earlier.
Later, bypassing the Supreme Court’s guidelines, the MoD issued a communication that the arrears would be paid in four instalments. The twisted direction again compelled veterans to knock on the highest court of India.
The delays also caused uncertainty among the armed forces personnel who have shorter careers between the ages of 35 and 37. The fact that about 80 percent of the soldiers compulsorily retire during that age, the OROP scheme makes a compelling case for their survival after retirement.
A circular issued by the Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Pensions) on February 28 has asked banks, accounting offices, pension disbursing authorities and other agencies concerned to ensure timely payment of arrears to all eligible pensioners before March 2023 in one go in accordance with the court orders.