A 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Justice Banumathi, Justice A.S.Bopanna and Justice Hrishikesh Roy, has held in the case of - State of Odisha & Others Vs ManjuNaik, on December 4, 2019, that –
1. The different provisions of the Orissa Civil Services (Pension) Rules,1992, cannot be read in isolation and must be construed harmoniously; and
2. The requirement of qualifying service cannot be said to be irrelevant for claiming different service benefits under the same Rules.
According to the Apex-Court, the condition of qualifying service prescribed in the Pension Rules, 1992, must be satisfied by one to become eligible for ‘Invalid Pension’ (Pension that may be granted by the Government to an employee who applies for retirement before his service is supposed to end, on account of a bodily or mental injury) and the arguments made to the contrary that the invalid pension can be claimed under Rule 39 without satisfying the stipulated service mentioned in the rules, did not appeal to the Court.
The respondent’s husband who had served for lesser years than the prescribed 10 years’ qualifying service(One has to serve the employer-government for a certain span after which one becomes eligible for pension and other such benefits), was found by his employers, entitled to service gratuity only, because of his premature retirement on the ground of mental incapacitation and this is what is provided by the Pension Rules, 1992. The dues toward service gratuity were paid accordingly.
The Pension Rules definitely envisage that there could be a situation where an employee may not be eligible for pension benefits for not satisfying the prescribed qualifying service of ten years. For those with less than ten years’ service, the Pension Rules provide for gratuity payment and therefore, it was difficult for the Court to conclude that for invalid pension, qualifying years of service, can be ignored.
This view of the Court is supported by the ratio of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case –Union of India & Another Vs. BashirbhaiKhilji – (2007) 6 SCC 16, where the Court was considering a claim by an armed Constable in the CRPF, for invalid pension, who suffered from Pyrogenic Meningitis and Neurosensory Deafness (Bilateral). In that case, the CRPF personnel was declared unfit for active duty, and he was invalidated from service.
Thereafter, he applied to the authorities for invalid pension but that was rejected on the ground that he had not completed the qualifying service of ten years. Instead, he was paid service gratuity. The HC in that case however, took the view that since the CRPF constable’s invalidity was cent percent, he was entitled to invalid pension and the stipulation of ten years of qualifying service could not be invoked to deny him the invalid pension.
However, Justice A.K. Mathur, speaking for a 2-judge bench of the SC, while interpreting similar provisions in the applicable Rules, negated the HC’s view and pronounced on the issue of qualifying service for invalid pension as under:
“ ...the minimum qualifying service which is required for the pension as mentioned in Rule 49, is ten years. The qualifying service has been explained in various memos issued by the Govt. of India from time to time. But, Rule 49 read with Rule 38 makes it clear that qualifying service for pension is ten years and therefore, gratuity is determined after the completion of qualifying service of ten years. Therefore, for grant of any kind of pension, one has to put in the minimum of ten years of qualifying service. The respondent in the present case does not have the minimum qualifying service. Therefore, the authorities declined to grant him the invalid pension. But the amount of gratuity has been determined and the same was paid to him........”
The Supreme Court has reiterated and approved in this case, the enunciation of the law on requirement of qualifying service for invalid pension by this bench of two judges.
In a case like this, the need for compassion and the compliance with the norms has to be balanced. The allowable gratuity benefits were granted on account of the respondent’s husband’s service and after he died, the widow was appointed (on June 12, 2006) for a government job under the Rehabilitation Assistance Scheme. Thus, the needed means of sustenance was provided to the deceased’s family.
The respondent’s husband had not served for ten years and was therefore, he was disentitled for regular pension. For the same reason, he cannot also be held entitled to invalid pension. The different provisions of the Pension Rules cannot be read in isolation and must be construed harmoniously and the requirement of qualifying service cannot be said to be irrelevant for claiming different service benefits under the same Rules. In this case, the employee did not satisfy the requirement of qualifying service and therefore, the invalid pension could not have been ordered for him, under Rule 39 of the Pension Rules.
The appeal in this case, arose out of the judgment and order passed by the Orissa High Court on November 29, 2016, wherein, the HC had dismissed the appellant’s challenge to the order of August 3, 2015,passed by the Odisha Administrative Tribunal under which the authorities were directed to consider sanction of invalid pension in favour of late SagarNaik (husband of the respondent) and thereafter settle family pension in favour of the applicant under the provisions of the Pension Rules, 1992 after regularizing services of the deceased employee.
The applicant had also prayed for sanction of family pension from the date of death of her husband,that is, July 24, 1996.The applicant’s case before the Tribunal was that her husband on being found incapacitated was made to retire from service on July 6, 1996 and died soon thereafter on July 24. 1996, and therefore, the widow is entitled to family pension. She had also tried to make out a case for grant of invalid pension in favour of her late husband.
The Tribunal’s decision was challenged by the appellants before the HC where the State’s submission was that Rule 39 has to be read jointly with Rule 47 of the Pension Rules and if Rules are applied as it should be, conjointly, the deceased employee is ineligible for invalid pension. The HC left the Tribunal’s impugned order undisturbed and dismissed the writ petition filed by the State.
The SC has pointed out that it will bear emphasis that the respondent never prayed for invalid pension for her husband in her Original Application and yet the Tribunal as well as the HC granted her the unclaimed relief. Such additional munificence, in addition to the job provided to the first respondent –widow, under the Rehabilitation Assistance Scheme for the sustenance of the deceased’s family, in the SC’s view was unwarranted and the impugned order cannot be sustained.
In the result, the SC set aside the impugned orders passed by the Tribunal and the HC and allowed the appeal.