No constitutional infirmity in One Rank One Pension scheme: SC (Ld)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the One Rank-One Pension (OROP) scheme is a policy decision and the court finds no constitutional infirmity in the principle as defined by the communication issued by the government on November 7, 2015.

A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said: “We find no constitutional infirmity in the OROP principle as defined by the communication dated 7 November 2015.”

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Vikram Nath, added, “Since the OROP definition is not arbitrary, it is not necessary for us to undertake the exercise of determining if the financial implications of the scheme is negligible or enormous”.

Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said that element of the policy cannot be challenged on the notion that there is an inflexible notion of OROP couched in an original understanding. “OROP is itself a matter of policy and it was open to the makers of the policy to determine the terms of implementation. The policy is of course subject to judicial review on constitutional parameters, which is a distinct issue”, said Justice Chandrachud.

The bench said the definition of OROP is uniformly applicable to all the pensioners irrespective of the date of retirement. It added that since the uniform application of the last drawn salary for the purpose of calculating pension would put the prior retirees at a disadvantage, the Union government has taken a policy decision to enhance the base salary for the calculation of pension.

The bench noted that all pensioners who hold the same rank may not for all purposes form a homogenous class and the benefit of a new element in a pensionary scheme can be prospectively applied. However, the scheme cannot bifurcate a homogenous group based on a cut-off date, it added.

“The Union government decided to adopt the average. Persons below the average were brought up to the average mark while those drawing above the average were protected. Such a decision lies within the ambit of policy choices”, said the bench.

The bench noted that in terms of the communication dated 7 November 2015, the benefit of OROP was to be effected from July 1, 2014, and para 3 (v) of it states that “in future, the pension would be re-fixed every five years”. Concluding the judgment, the bench said: “We accordingly order and direct that in terms of the communication dated 7 November 2015, a re-fixation exercise shall be carried out from July 1, 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”.

The top court’s judgment came on a plea filed by the Ex-servicemen Association seeking implementation of OROP, as recommended by the Bhagat Singh Koshyari Committee with an automatic annual revision. The plea had challenged the current policy of periodic review once in five years.

The petitioners contend 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. They argued that the initial definition of OROP was altered by the central government and, instead of an automatic revision of the rates of pension, the revision now would take place at periodic intervals.

The central limb of the submission of the petitioners is that a revision of OROP should be automatic. The Union government submitted that besides lacking any prior precedent, in terms of the practice governing pay scales, pensions and other financial emoluments of government servants, automatic revision would be impossible to implement.

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