The Ministry of Defence has told the Supreme Court that it has initiated the process of withdrawing its communication on payment of One Rank-One Pension (OROP) arrears in four instalments and gave a time schedule for payment of the arrears of Rs 28,000 crore to the ex-servicemen for years 2019-22.
The ministry has filed an affidavit and a compliance note in the top court after it, on March 13, had come down heavily on the government for “unilaterally” deciding to pay OROP dues in four instalments.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, which is scheduled to hear on Monday the plea of Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) over payment of OROP dues, had asked the government to immediately withdraw its January 20 communication before it wanted its plea for extension of time be heard.
“The withdrawal of the communication dated January 20, 2023 has to go through the due process of clearance in the government at the highest level. Applicant has already initiated the process for complying with the order of this court on the very same day. It is also submitted that the applicant not being empowered to withdraw the communication dated January 20, on his own, both the intimation and initiation has been done on the very same day and the applicant is pursuing the matter in letter and spirit,” Vijay Kumar Singh, Secretary of Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare, Ministry of Defence, said in the affidavit.
In the compliance note of March 17, the Defence Ministry said its budget outlay for financial year 2022-23 is Rs 5.85 lakh crore, of which approximately Rs 1.32 lakh crore is planned expenditure for total pension disbursement.
“The amount of over Rs 1.2 lakh crore has already been disbursed till February 2023 to all pensioners under the ministry for the year 2022-23 and there is no issue arising out of this,” it said.
Giving a schedule of the payment of OROP arrears, the government said, “The outlay for the arrears is of the order of Rs 28,000 crore. The planned budget outlay for 2022-23 is not in a position to assimilate the huge outlay in one go.” “The Ministry of Defence being a strategic sector has to strike a fine balance between the financial outgo on its operational commitments and the expenditure incurred on its personnel including the defence pensioners. Since the resources are limited…, the expenses are needed to be regulated in such a way that the individual needs are met without compromising the operational readiness of our armed forces…it is for the reason that (like in the past) OROP has been approved for disbursement in four instalments,” it said.
It said the total number of armed force pensioners, whose pension has to be upgraded/reviewed under the OROP, was 25 lakh.
“Out of 25 lakh pensioners, four lakh would not be eligible for the OROP as their pension payments are already above the OROP benchmark and therefore, this brings the number down to 21 lakh pensioners,” the compliance note said.
Out of 21 lakh pensioners, six lakh would fall under the category of “family pensioners” and this brought down the number to 15 lakh, it said.
The court, on March 13, had directed the government to compute the number of retired servicemen who are 70 years and above and the number of such pensioners worked out to be 4-5 lakh.
“It is submitted that approximately 14 lakh pensioners including 4 lakh family pensioners had already been paid substantial portion which amounts Rs 6,500 crore,” it said, adding that there shall be the endeavour to complete the first instalment payment for all pensioners by March 31 and which would take the quantum to Rs 8,000 crore.
“Six lakh are family pensioners and gallantry award winners and their arrear payments would be settled by March 31, 2023, but considering the involvement of plural disbursing agencies and to avoid inaccuracies it is respectfully prayed time may be granted to complete full settlement for six lakh family pensioner and gallantry award winners by April 30, 2023,” it said.
The Defence Ministry said the pensioners, who are above 70 years, are “roughly four lakh” and considering the budget constraints and the plurality of disbursing system, four-five months time be given to pay the OROP arrears to this class of ex-servicemen.
“…an outer time limit of 4-5 months is prayed for making full settlement of the arrears in one go in respect of this class that is the arrears of this class shall be made on or before September 31, 2023,” it said on the issue of payment of arrears of 70-year-old pensioners.
“Coming to the last tranche of 10-11 lakh pensioners, considering the size of the payment and the various operational factors, instead of a disbursement in four equal instalments (one instalment is already paid), spread over a period of two years. Applicants undertake the payment of balance three instalments within the financial year 2023-24 ending March 31, 2024 and thus render justice,” it said.
Earlier, Attorney General R Venkataramani had said the Centre has paid one instalment of OROP arrears to ex-servicemen but needed some more time for further payments.
“First withdraw (your) January 20 notification on payment of OROP arrears, then we will consider your application for time,” the bench had told Venkataramani.
The bench had said the Defence Ministry’s January 20 communication was completely contrary to its verdict and it cannot “unilaterally” say it will pay OROP arrears in four instalments.
It had asked the attorney general to prepare a note giving details of the quantum of payment to be paid, the modalities to be adopted and what’s the priority segment for the payment of arrears.
On February 27, the top court pulled up the ministry over the delay in payment of OROP arrears to eligible pensioners of the armed forces and sought an explanation from the secretary concerned for issuing the communication extending the timeline for payments fixed by the court.
On January 9, the top court granted time till March 15 to the Centre for payment of total arrears of OROP. But on January 20, the ministry issued a communication that the arrears shall be paid in four yearly instalments.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)