The process initiated to withdraw communication regarding payment of OROP dues in four instalments: Government to SC

The Ministry of Defence has informed the Supreme Court that it has begun the process of withdrawing its communication on payment of One Rank-One Pension (OROP) arrears in four instalments and has provided a timetable for payment of Rs 28,000 crore to ex-servicemen for the fiscal year 2019-22.

The ministry has filed an affidavit and a compliance note with the Supreme Court after the court slammed the government on March 13 for “unilaterally” decided to pay OROP dues in four instalments.

A bench led by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, which is expected to hear the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement’s (IESM) petition for an extension of time on Monday, had directed the government to retract its January 20 communication as soon as possible.

“The withdrawal of the message dated January 20, 2023, must go through the proper clearance process in the government at the highest level. On the same day, the applicant began the process of complying with the order of this court. It is also submitted that the applicant is not empowered to withdraw the communication dated January 20, on his own, that both the intimation and the initiation were done on the same day, and that the applicant is pursuing the matter in letter and spirit,” Vijay Kumar Singh, Secretary of the Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare, Ministry of Defence, said in the affidavit.

The Defence Ministry stated in its March 17 compliance note that its budget outlay for fiscal year 2022-23 is Rs 5.85 lakh crore, of which approximately Rs 1.32 lakh crore is projected expenditure for total pension payment.

“About Rs 1.2 lakh crore has already been given to all pensioners under the ministry for the fiscal year 2022-23 until February 2023, and there is no concern,” it said.

“The outlay for the arrears is of the order of Rs 28,000 crore,” the government said, providing a plan for payment of OROP arrears. The estimated budget outlay for 2022-23 will not be able to absorb the massive outlay all at once.” “The Ministry of Defence, being a strategic sector, has to strike a tight balance between the financial outgo on its operational commitments and the expense incurred on its staff, including the defence retirees. Because resources are limited…, expenses must be handled in such a way that individual demands are addressed without jeopardising our armed forces’ operational readiness… It is because (like in the past), OROP has been approved for payout in four instalments,” it stated.

It stated that there are 25 lakh armed force pensioners whose pensions must be upgraded/reviewed under the OROP.

“Of the 25 lakh pensioners, four lakh would be ineligible for the OROP because their pension payouts are already over the OROP benchmark, reducing the number to 21 lahks,” the compliance note stated.

Six lahks of the 21 lakh pensioners will be classified as “family pensioners,” bringing the total to 15 lahks, according to the report.

On March 13, the court instructed the government to calculate the number of retired servicemen aged 70 and up, and the number of such pensions was calculated to be 4-5 lakh.

“It is submitted that approximately 14 lakh pensioners, including 4 lakh family pensioners, have already received a substantial portion totalling Rs 6,500 crore,” it said, adding that an effort will be made to complete the first instalment payment for all pensioners by March 31, bringing the total to Rs 8,000 crore.

“Six lahks are family pensioners and gallantry award winners, and their arrear payments would be settled by March 31, 2023,” it said. “However, due to the involvement of multiple disbursing agencies and to avoid inaccuracies, it is respectfully requested that time be granted to complete full settlement for six lakh family pensioners and gallantry award winners by April 30, 2023,” it added.

According to the Defence Ministry, there are “approximately four lahks” pensioners over the age of 70, and given the financial limits and the plurality of disbursing systems, four to five months should be allowed to pay the OROP arrears to this class of ex-servicemen.

“…an outside time limit of 4-5 months is sought for completing the full settlement of the arrears in respect of this class in one go, that is, the arrears of this class shall be made on or before September 31, 2023,” it said on the topic of payment of arrears of pensioners above the age of 70.

“With regard to the final tranche of 10-11 lakh pensioners, given the scale of the payment and the many operational factors, instead of disbursement in four equal instalments (one of which has already been paid), spread over a two-year period. “Applicants agree to pay the remainder in three instalments throughout the fiscal year 2023-24, which ends March 31, 2024, and thereby render justice,” it stated.

Previously, Attorney General R Venkataramani stated that the Centre had paid one instalment of OROP arrears to ex-servicemen but needed more time to make more payments.

“Withdraw (your) January 20 notification on payment of OROP arrears first, and then we would consider your appeal for time,” the bench had informed Venkataramani.

The bench had stated that the Defence Ministry’s January 20 notification was utterly contradictory to its judgement and that it could not “unilaterally” state that it would pay OROP arrears in four instalments.

It had requested that the attorney general prepare a note outlining the amount to be paid, the modalities to be used, and the priority segment for payment of arrears.

On February 27, the Supreme Court summoned the ministry over the delay in payment of OROP arrears to eligible armed forces retirees and demanded an explanation from the secretary in charge for sending the message extending the timetable for payments set by the court.

On January 9, the Supreme Court granted the Centre an extension until March 15 to settle the total arrears of OROP. However, on January 20, the ministry released a notification stating that the arrears would be reimbursed in four annual instalments.

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