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SC to take up over 400 SSC officers’ plea seeking post-retirement benefits — ‘breach of Article 14′

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court is set to hear a petition filed by over 400 Short Service Commissioned Officers (SSCOs) demanding post-retirement benefits like pension and contributory provident funds.

The petitioners are current and recently retired SSCOs, commissioned on or after 1 January 2004, from all arms, services, branches, cadres, and departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force. 

They lament that they are “the only class of government officials in the entire nation who are deprived of benefits under the Old Pension Scheme, the new National Pension Scheme, as well as even under Contributory Provident Funds”.

Alleging a violation of their right to equality and asserting that post-retirement benefits are rooted in their right to dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution, the petition was filed in March. 

A bench comprising Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra issued notice on the petition on 3 May. The case will come up again on 15 July. 

The petition, seen by ThePrint, pointed out that several courts have observed that pension is not a bounty payable on the “sweet will and the pleasure” of the government, and to receive pension is a valuable right of a government employee. 

The plea asserted that SSCOs spend a considerable number of their most productive years in service of the country. However, once retired, they are “left to fend for their livelihood themselves without the financial aid of the state in the form of retirement benefits at par with other government servants,” the plea said. 

“The SSCOs after becoming ex-servicemen have to venture out and integrate back into the civil society on their own, without any support, monthly financial aid, or even any realistic job opportunities by the government,” it added. 


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A WhatsApp group that started it all

The tenure of service rendered or liable to be rendered by the petitioners is between 5 and 14 years of commissioned service. Commissioned service of SSCOs can range only up to either 5, 10, or a maximum of 14 years in case of extension (excluding the one year of pre-commissioning training period for a majority of SSCOs). 

The Old Pension Scheme currently applies to commissioned officers rendering a minimum service of 20 years. The New Pension Scheme (NPS) also excluded SSCOs in its first stage, at the time of its implementation in January 2004.

According to the petition, there are a total of about 1.5-1.6 crore central and state government employees in the country, of which an exclusive group of about 10,000-12,000 SSCOs, including the petitioners, have been excluded from all forms of post-retirement pensionary benefits as well as benefits of Contributory Provident Funds (CPF). 

This, it asserted, “is a glaring breach of their right to equality and equal treatment, as well as a violation of their fundamental right to a dignified living”.

Major Kavish Aggarwala, who is listed as the first petitioner in the case, told ThePrint that their battle is rooted on the grounds of the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. 

“One government servant out of nearly 1,500 is being deprived of the benefits of NPS/CPF…SSC officers shoulder equal responsibility in the defence of the nation as PC (Permanent Commissioned) officers. There is absolutely no reason to treat SSC officers in such a step-motherly manner when compared not only with PC officers but the rest of the civilian government servants as well,” he said. 

Aggarwala added that this lack of benefits deeply impacts the SSCOs. “It is an extremely stressful situation for SSC officers who are on the verge of release, or who have been recently released. Many of them have sleepless nights because there is no job guarantee for them.” 

He explained that this issue has been dormant so far primarily because members of the armed forces are restricted from forming associations of their own.   

However, in August last year, a WhatsApp group was created to check whether other officers might be interested in taking the cause forward, Aggarwala told ThePrint. “When we did that, there was an overwhelming response because everybody realised that something grossly wrong was happening against the SSCO community,” he said. 

‘Left in the lurch’

According to the petition, while SSCOs are being denied post-retirement benefits, Permanent Commissioned officers are eligible to receive lifelong retirement pension under the OPS as well as benefits ancillary to retirement, such as free medical facilities, pensioner status, and other facilities.

However, the plea said, there was no difference between SSCOs and PC officers in terms of the selection procedure, physical and medical standards, mandatory tests, postings, duties, and liabilities. 

“There is also no difference between SSCOs and Permanent Commissioned officers in terms of liability to be sent to battlefields, warzones, counter-intelligence or counter-terrorist operations,” it claimed. “Yet, SSCOs have been unreasonably left in the lurch to face financial insecurity after retirement, unlike the permanent cadre of officers in the armed forces.”

The petition also highlighted the “unreasonable financial insecurity and loss faced by SSCOs”. 

It claimed that SSCOs who serve for 14 years suffer a loss of nearly Rs 20-25 lakh, while those serving 10 and 5 years suffer a loss of nearly Rs 10-15 lakh and Rs 5-8 lakh, respectively, solely due to not being granted the benefits of NPS and/or Contributory Provident Fund.

The plea added that several SSCOs “have to face substantially long periods of unemployment after release/retirement from their respective services without any form of social or financial security since the state has made no provisions for lateral absorption for SSCOs in other government jobs”.


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‘Grave financial insecurity’

Furthermore, the petition pointed out that the Defence Accounts Department Office Manual Part V For CDA (Funds) (Revised Edition 2016), issued by the government, mandates the provision of a Contributory Provident Fund for non-pensionable employees of the Armed Forces.

Therefore, it asserted that petitioners and other SSCOs should be granted government contributions to their Contributory Provident Fund accounts from the very inception of their services as SSCOs.

However, the plea added that SSCOs were not granted this as well, and thus, “have to face grave financial insecurity after retirement till the time they are able to secure, out of their own efforts, a well-paying job/work to support the livelihood of their family.”

Instead, the government is taking monthly contributions from SSCOs under the Defence Services Officers’ Provident Fund, which is a non-contributory provident fund, it added.

Moreover, the petition highlighted that in 2015, Raksha Mantri’s Committee of Experts released their ‘Review of Service and Pension Matters Including Potential Disputes, Minimizing Litigation and Strengthening Institutional Mechanisms Related to Redressal of Grievances’ report.

This report recommended that a Contributory Pension Scheme on the lines of the New Pension System be considered for all SSC officers who serve for a minimum period of 10 years or alternatively, the New Pension Scheme (NPS) itself could be extended to the SSC scheme of the defence services.

“However, this recommendation of the said committee has not been executed till date and the petitioners and similarly placed SSCOs have been left in the lurch,” the petition said.

(Edited by Richa Mishra)


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