The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the defence ministry for defying its orders to clear the arrears of retired armed forces personnel under the OROP (One Rank One Pension) scheme by March 15 despite being granted three extensions, as it warned the defence secretary of contempt proceedings for violating its directive.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud asked the secretary concerned to file an affidavit in his personal capacity and posted the matter for further hearing on March 13.
The bench, which included Justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, told additional solicitor-general N. Venkataraman that the official must withdraw his unilateral order dated January 20 by which he sought to extend the March 15 deadline fixed by the apex court to March 31.
“You tell the secretary we are going to take action against him for that January 20 communication. Either withdraw it or we are going to issue a contempt notice to the defence ministry.
“Here you are going on a war against the rule of law. You cannot do this. How can you issue such a communication against our orders?” Justice Chandrachud said.
The bench took exception to the secretary issuing a communication on January 20 through which he informed the ex-servicemen that their arrears would be paid in four instalments till March 31. Aggrieved by the move, retired defence personnel moved the court, alleging a breach of its orders.
Venkataraman sought time from the bench to file a compliance affidavit and also assured the court that its order would be implemented in letter and spirit.
The issue can be traced back to the Supreme Court’s March 2022 judgment that upheld the OROP scheme introduced by the Centre through its notification dated November 7, 2015.
The apex court had, however, said that a refixation exercise should be conducted from July 1, 2019, upon the expiry of five years on the pension payable to the defence personnel as stated in the OROP policy and the arrears paid within a period of three months.
On a defence ministry’s plea, the top court extended the three-month period by another three months in September 2022 and a further three months in January 2023, directing the Centre to make the payment by March 15.
“In the meantime, a communication has been issued by the department of ex-servicemen welfare in the Union ministry of defence on January 20, 2023. Paragraph 6 of the communication states: ‘Arrears on account of revision of pension from 01.07.2019 till the date of its implementation shall be paid by the Pension Disbursing Agencies in four half-yearly instalments. However, all the family pensioners including those in receipt of special/liberalised family pension and all gallantry award winners shall be paid arrears in one instalment,’” the bench said on Monday.
“Paragraph 6 above.... is contrary to the order of this court by which time has been extended until March 15, 2023, to pay the entire arrears. The submission of N. Venkataraman, additional solicitor-general, is that arrears due to family pensioners and gallantry award winners will be disbursed by March 31. This would not fulfil the requirement of the above orders of this court,” it added.