Supreme Court fixes deadline to pay Rs 28k crore arrears under OROP scheme [20.3.2023]

The Supreme Court on Monday said the Centre is duty-bound to comply with its 2022 judgement on the payment of One Rank One Pension (OROP) arrears to ex-service personnel and asked it to pay dues for 2019-2022 worth Rs 28,000 crore to them by February 28, 2024.

A bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud provided a schedule to the ministry of defence to pay the arrears to the ex-service personnel, categorised under several heads. The bench had earlier refused to accept the Centre's sealed cover note on the payment of OROP dues.

"The Union government is duty-bound to comply with the judgement of this court in the terms of the OROP scheme," it said, as reported by the news agency PTI.

The bench noted that out of 2.5 million pensioners, 400,000 did not qualify for the OROP scheme as they were getting enhanced pensions, and the Centre proposed to pay the arrears by April 30, 2023.

Reducing the time limit to February 28, 2024, the bench gave the schedule for payment of arrears to different groups of pensioners under the OROP scheme.

The bench fixed these deadlines:

  • The bench, also comprising justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala, directed that 600,000 family pensioners and gallantry award winners "shall be paid their OROP dues by April 30, 2023".
  • Around 400,000-500,000 retired servicemen aged 70 years and above shall be paid their OROP dues in one or more instalments by June 30, 2023.
  • The OROP dues for remaining pensioners shall be paid in three equal instalments by February 28, next year. The bench said that the payment of the dues "will not affect further equalisation of pension of ex-servicemen to be done in 2024".

At the outset of the hearing, the top court refused to accept the Centre's sealed cover note about its views on the payment of OROP arrears. "We need to put an end to this sealed cover practice in the Supreme Court... This is fundamentally contrary to the basic process of fair justice," it said.

"I am personally averse to sealed covers. There has to be transparency in court... This is about implementing orders. What can be secret here," CJI Chandrachud said.

The bench was hearing the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement's (IESM) plea over the payment of OROP dues.

The apex court, on March 13, came down heavily on the government for "unilaterally" deciding to pay OROP dues in four instalments.

The defence ministry has recently filed an affidavit and a compliance note in the top court, giving the schedule for payment of the arrears of Rs 28,000 crore to ex-servicemen for the years 2019-22.

What is the OROP scheme?

OROP stands for One Rank, One Pension. It implies the payment of the same pension to armed forces personnel for the same rank and the same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Ex-servicemen raised the demand for OROP to remove the disparity in pensions.

The OROP was the pension model till 1973 when the Indira Gandhi government terminated it. Later in 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi government implemented the Rank Pay Scheme. It brought the basic pay of seven officer ranks in the army down by fixed amounts and came to be called as rank pay. This caused reduced pensions for many personnel.

The Centre then appointed the Koshiyari Committee, headed by Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, to analyse the situation. In 2011, the committee submitted its report and said that the same pension must be paid for an equal length of service of the same rank, irrespective of the retirement date.

In 2014, the Centre passed the order of implementation of the OROP scheme.

20 Mar 2023