The Supreme Court recently upheld Centre’s OROP Policy in defence forces.
The petition under Article 32 of the Constitution addresses a challenge to the manner in which the “One Rank One Pension” policy for ex-servicemen of defence forces has been implemented by the first respondent through a letter issued to the Chiefs of three defence forces.
The letter defines OROP as the payment of uniform pension to armed services personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement. OROP, in terms of the letter, aims to bridge the gap between the rate of pension of current and past pensioners at periodic intervals.
It was contended by the petitioner that in the course of implementation, the principle of OROP has been replaced by ‘one rank multiple pensions’ for persons with the same length of service. The petitioners contend that the initial definition of OROP was altered by the first respondent and, instead of an automatic revision of the rates of pension, the revision now would take place at periodic intervals.
The petitioners submit that the deviation from the principle of automatic revision of rates of pension, where any future enhancement to the rates of pension are automatically passed on to the past pensioners, is arbitrary and unconstitutional under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appeared for the petitioners, contended that the letter issued by the Joint Secretary of the first respondent to the Chief of Air Staff on 7 November 2015 arbitrarily alters the definition of OROP by bridging the gap between the rates of pension of the current and the past pensioners at ‘periodic intervals’ and not ‘automatically’. This definition is contrary to the definition arrived at in the meeting held on 26 February 2014 and the subsequent executive order issued on the same day.
The Additional Solicitor General of India Venkataramanan, appearing for the respondents, contended that the budget for pension has been increased after the implementation of OROP with effect from 1 July 2014. The disbursement of arrears with respect to OROP is approximately Rs 10795.04 crores. The yearly recurring expenditure on account of OROP is Rs 7123.38 crores. For the six years from 1 July 2014, the total recurring expenditure is approximately Rs 42740.28 crores.
The three judge bench of Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Vikram Nath stated that the fallacy in the submission of the petitioners is in the argument that the policy communication is contrary to the original decision which was taken by the Union Government to implement OROP. Implicit in the submission of the petitioners is the premise that the original decision was based on the Koshyari Committee Report followed by the statement on the floor of the House by the Minister of Finance and the minutes of the meeting convened by the Defence Minister.
The court said that most questions of policy involve complex considerations of not only technical and economic factors but also require balancing competing interests for which democratic reconciliation rather than adjudication is the best remedy. Further, an increased reliance on judges to solve matters of pure policy diminishes the role of other political organs in resolving contested issues of social and political policy, which require a democratic dialogue.
It was added by the court that this is not to say that it will shy away from setting aside policies that impinge on constitutional rights. Rather it is to provide a clear-eyed role of the function that a court serves in a democracy. The OROP policy may only be challenged on the ground that it is manifestly arbitrary or capricious.
The court said that in terms of the communication dated 7 November 2015, the benefit of OROP was to be effected from 1 July 2014. Para 3 (v) of the communication states that “in future, the pension would be re-fixed every five years”. Such an exercise has remained to be carried out after the expiry of five years possibly because of the pendency of the present proceedings.
The court ordered and directed that in terms of the communication, a re-fixation exercise shall be carried out from 1 July 2019, upon the expiry of five years. Arrears payable to all eligible pensioners of the armed forces shall be computed and paid over accordingly within a period of three months.
Case title: Indian Ex Servicemen Movement & Ors. v/s Union of India & Ors.
Citation: Writ Petition (Civil) No. 419 of 2016