Denial of pension is continuing wrong, can't be oblivious of difficulties of retired employee: SC
The Supreme Court Monday said "denial of pension is a continuing wrong" and it cannot be oblivious to the difficulties of a retired employee in approaching the courts, which could include financial constraints.
The top court also said it is a settled law that when financial rules framed by the Government such as Pension Rules are capable of more than one interpretation, then the Courts should lean towards that interpretation, which goes in favour of the employee.
A bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari dismissed the appeal of the Rajasthan government against the High Court order in which it had dismissed a plea of the state government challenging the single judge's decision to award a pension to a former assistant director (Agro-Industries) of Department of Industries of the State.
"In this case, the Respondent-Writ Petitioner is claiming a pension, which is a lifelong benefit. Denial of pension is a continuing wrong. This Court cannot also be oblivious to the difficulties of a retired employee in approaching the Court, which could include financial constraints", the bench said.
It added, "It is settled law that when financial rules framed by the Government such as Pension Rules are capable of more interpretations than one, the Courts should lean towards that interpretation which goes in favour of the employee".
The bench said that the High Court has rendered a just decision based on a purposive interpretation of Rule 25(2) of the Rules applied to the admitted facts on record.
"The interpretation given by the High Court to Rule 25(2) of the Rules is a plausible interpretation", it said, adding "We, therefore, find no grounds to interfere with the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court. The Special Leave Petition is, accordingly, dismissed".
The bench said that the State is bound by the fundamental rights of its employees under Articles 14 to 16 of the Constitution.
"It is now well settled that arbitrariness violates the right to equality under Articles 14 to 16 of the Constitution of India", it said and pointed out that the employee resigned from Rajasthan State Agro Industry Corporation to take up the appointment as Assistant Director (Agro Industries) in the Department of Industries in the State of Rajasthan, after being selected through the RPSC.
The bench noted that respondent OP Gupta was initially appointed as an Assistant Charge Man in the Rajasthan Agriculture Engineering Board, Department of Agriculture of the State government with effect from January 13, 1967.
It said that the Engineering Board was subsequently merged with the Rajasthan State Agro Industry Corporation and accordingly, the services of the respondent were transferred to the Rajasthan State Agro Industry Corporation vide transfer order dated July 8, 1970, on the same pay scale.
He worked with Rajasthan State Agro Industry Corporation continuously till April 12, 1977, it noted.
The top court said that pursuant to an advertisement dated June 16, 1976, issued by the Rajasthan Public Service Commission (RPSC), he applied for the post of Assistant Director (Agro-Industries) in the Department of Industries for which he was selected and was appointed by an order dated April 7, 1977.
It noted that according to Gupta, he joined service in the Department of Industries on April 16, 1977, and while serving in the Department of Industries, he attained the age of superannuation and retired on April 30, 2003, from the post of Additional Director of Industries, Headquarter, Jaipur.
"However, while counting the length of service of respondent for the purpose of calculating pension and other retiral benefits, the Petitioners (state government) did not count the tenure from January 13, 1967, to April 12, 1977 (the period for which the Respondent (Gupta) worked for the Rajasthan Agriculture Engineering Board and the Rajasthan State Agro Industry Corporation)", it noted.
It rejected the state government's submission that resignation by Gupta entails forfeiture of past service with the Rajasthan State Agro Industry Corporation, for the purpose of pension saying he having retired after working for about 26 years, the State cannot raise the question of proof of prior permission before the resignation, more so when the appointment had been made through the RPSC to a Government post.
"It is to be deemed that there has been a disclosure of past service and the application has been made through proper channels by obtaining the requisite approvals", the bench said.
The respondent submitted representations to the Department of Industries requesting that his service tenure from January 13, 1967, to April 12, 1977, be counted for his pension and retiral benefits but the request for counting the service tenure from January 13, 1967, to April 12, 1977, was not granted.
Aggrieved by the state government decision, Gupta approached the High Court which had on May 5, 2017, held that the service rendered by him with the Rajasthan Agriculture Engineering Board and the Rajasthan State Agro Industry Corporation, was liable to be counted while computing pension/other pensionary benefits.
The single judge of the high court further directed the state government to count the earlier period of service rendered by Gupta and release his pension and retiral benefits including arrears of pension with interest at the rate of 9 per cent per annum within three months from the date of the order.