In a welcome news for as many as 5,727 Special Frontier Force (SFF) veterans who had retired before January 2009, the Centre has informed the Delhi high court that it was ready to restore service pension to them in line with the benefits available to retired Indian Army personnel.
The government, however, has sought six months time to implement the high court’s January 29 order on the ground that large financial implications are involved in payment of amounts to the tune of ` 600 crore, which requires consultation with several ministries.
The high court had earlier given four months deadline to the Centre to issue a circular restoring the benefits to all eligible retirees.
But with the government now saying that it has “accepted the judgment and proposes to implement the same” and it needed more time, a bench of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice Sunil Gaur relaxed the deadline for compliance on the January 29 judgment by another four months, starting June 2.
The SFF — a top-secret regiment — was created in the wake of the Chinese aggression in 1962 and initially comprised only Tibetans. Later, Nepali Gurkhas too were recruited from 1965. They were included in the fighting force to guard the nation’s territories given their physical attributes and their ability to survive in very high altitude and extreme climate.
In 1985, they were given rank parity with the army personnel. Subsequently, in January 2009, they were brought at par in pay, allowances and pension with the personnel of the Indian Army but prospectively.
Aggrieved by the discrimination meted out to pre-January 2009 retirees, the ex-servicemen welfare union moved a public interest litigation in the high court challenging the imposition of cut-off date for the reimbursement of pensionary and other retirement benefits. The SFF had contended that the service rendered by its personnel was no less crucial to maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.
Noting that the SFF veterans have made “outstanding contributions” to the nation’s defence and security, the high court had ruled that before and after 2009, SFF retirees cannot be discriminated on the basis of pension benefits. “There is no justification why this differentia is introduced, given that both preand-post 2009 SFF retirees performed the same duties and stood to benefit in terms of rank parity with army personnel, for purposes of pensionary benefits, since 1985,” the high court had noted. “They were not army regulars, nor are they Indian nationals. Yet, they stood at the border, shoulder to shoulder with Indian Army personnel, to patrol and defend our borders.
The Indian Union gave them grudging and incremental recognition for these services,” the high court had remarked while deciding the plea of the still-secret regiment.