Rework the pension for five women officers: SC to Navy

The five officers were among the first inductee batches of WSSCO in the Navy and had missed out on grant of permanent commission as they had been released prior to September 26, 2008.
Although terminal gratuity was refunded, the Navy offered death-cum-retirement gratuity (DCRG) to the five officers as payable to permanent commission officers. (REUTERS)
Although terminal gratuity was refunded, the Navy offered death-cum-retirement gratuity (DCRG) to the five officers as payable to permanent commission officers. (REUTERS)
Updated on Sep 10, 2021 11:11 AM IST
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ByAbraham Thomas

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Indian Navy to rework the pension benefits of five women short service commission officers (WSSCO) and waive interest on gratuity refund, while reminding that these women officers had served the country for a substantial period of their life.

The five officers were among the first inductee batches of WSSCO in the Navy and had missed out on grant of permanent commission as they had been released prior to September 26, 2008. The date formed the cutoff date followed by the Supreme Court in its March 17, 2020 judgment by which those WSSCO in Navy who continued beyond this date became eligible for grant of permanent commission while the five officers, the present petitioners, were entitled to only pension benefits and a one-time compensation of 25 lakh and not reinstatement.

The women officers, represented by advocates Haripriya Padmanabhan and Pooja Dhar, informed the court that the pension pay order issued to them by the Navy was calculated against 14 years of service when the judgment had clearly held them to be deemed to have fulfilled the minimum qualifying pensionable service of 20 years. Further, the counsels pointed out that the Navy demanded a refund of the terminal gratuity payable to WSSCO along with interest, which doubled the liability.

In the case of one of the petitioners, it was shown that the gratuity to be refunded was over 6.84 lakh that jumped to over 13.95 lakh with interest, thus putting a huge burden on these officers. The petition said, “Calculating pension on the basis of 14 years’ service reduces the quantum of pension the applicants are entitled to and runs contrary to the directions of this Court…demand for return of gratuity with interest is completely unjustified and untenable.”

Senior advocate R Balasubramanian, appearing for the Navy, said the rules prescribed by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) were followed. With regard to payment of one-time compensation of 25 lakh, he said the same was paid to the five officers in December 2020.

The bench of Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and Hima Kohli appreciated the Navy for redressing the grievance of the petitioners to some measure but found that the officers were entitled to pension against 20 years’ service and even arrears of pension.

“We need to clarify that the pension payment be reworked on the basis that the officers were deemed to have completed 20 years minimum qualifying service for pension. The pension payment be calculated on basis of last drawn salary had they continued till 20 years in service,” the bench said.

On the aspect of refund, the bench asked Balasubramanian, “Why are you seeking refund of gratuity with interest? After all, they are women officers who have served the country.”

The bench further said, “Having regard to the facts and circumstances of this case, we direct that no interest shall be payable by officers on component liable to be refunded from the excess terminal gratuity.”

Further, the bench held that the officers will be entitled to arrears of pension from the date they completed minimum pensionable service and notional increments for the period between the date of release and the date of completion of 20 years of service.

Although terminal gratuity was refunded, the Navy offered death-cum-retirement gratuity (DCRG) to the five officers as payable to permanent commission officers. This was calculated at the rate of one-fourth of each month’s emoluments for each six months of completed service. The court directed that this benefit should also be worked against the total period of 20 years’ service.

The petitioners also urged the court to consider them for commutation of pension which is a basic benefit given to all employees entitled to pension. However, this was denied in their case. As a rule, the Navy informed the court that commutation of pension has to be sought within a month of release from service. Balasubramanian told the court that any concession for these five officers will open a floodgate.

The Navy told the bench that medical documents for availing commutation of pension submitted by the five officers were pending with the authorities. Exercising its extraordinary powers under Article 142, the bench said, “Under Article 142, we direct that the case of the five officers be favourably considered for commutation of pension.”

The court clarified that this order was passed in the specific facts of the five officers in question.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022