The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to file a three-page note specifying the exact quantum of arrears due to be paid under the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme, while noting that it is “sad” that four lakh retired defence personnel have already died waiting for their pension.
A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud ordered the government to also detail the modalities of the payment of OROP and “prioritisation” of disbursement, that is, first to defence widows and the oldest of retirees, in the note.
The note has to be filed before the next hearing on March 20.
“Our concern is that our ex-service personnel get the money. It is sad that four lakh people have died,” Chief Justice Chandrachud remarked.
The government, represented by Attorney General R. Venkataramani, has sought an extension of time to pay the entire dues.
“You [government] seem to have enough money for other things, events and projects, but no money to pay pensioners… Four lakh pensioners have died during the pendency of this petition,” senior advocate Huzefa Ahmedi and advocate Balaji Srinivasan, for the pensioners, protested.
“We are entirely with you. It is sad. The arrears will be paid to their families,” Chief Justice Chandrachud addressed Mr. Ahmedi.
Mr. Venkataramani said the government cannot wave a “magic wand”. There were “operational concerns” involved. Digitalisation of information is on. “Let us understand the dimensions involved,” he said.
“But when are you planning to pay?” the CJI asked.
Mr. Venkataramani said the first instalment of ₹2,000 crore would be paid. He said he was supervising the issue to see “how we can push it”.
The court, as in the previous hearing, took offence to the Ministry’s letter on January 20, basically informing that except in the case of family pensioners and gallantry awardees, the others would only get their OROP arrears in four equal half-yearly installments. The Ministry had not bothered to consult the court before issuing the letter.
“You first withdraw the letter, then we will consider your application for extension of time,” the CJI said.
The court, at one point, said that it would even ask the Defence Secretary to come and explain the letter unless it was withdrawn.
On January 9, the court had given the Ministry three months, till March 15, to comply with its nearly a year-old judgment to pay the arrears in whole.
Mr. Venkataramani said there was no “unilateral” move by the Ministry to alter the court’s decision of January 9.
In the earlier hearing, the court had pointed out that its judgment had directed the government to pay the OROP arrears in three months, by June 2022. This deadline was extended by another three months in September last year. On January 9, the period had been further stretched till March 15, 2023.