Minimum qualifying years of service cannot be ignored for grant of invalid pension

Supreme Court: In a case where the family of a man was awarded invalid pension by the Tribunal despite of the fact that the man had not completed the stipulated period of employment as per the Orissa Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1992, the 3-judge bench of R. Banumathi, A.S. Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ has held that the qualifying years of service cannot be ignored for invalid pension. It said,

“The condition of qualifying service prescribed in the Pension Rules must be satisfied to become eligible for invalid pension and the arguments made to the contrary that invalid pension can be claimed under Rule 39 without satisfying the stipulated qualifying service mentioned in the same Rules, do not appeal to us.”

In the case at hand, the Odisha Administrative Tribunal had held that the applicant’s husband was entitled to invalid pension under Rule 39 of the Pension Rules and accordingly, the authorities were directed to sanction the invalid pension for the applicant’s husband and after his death, to settle the family pension for the applicant, after regularizing the services of the deceased employee.

It was, hence, argued before the Court that the applicant’s husband cannot be granted invalid pension under Rule 39 as the provision has to be conjointly read with Rule 47 and Rule 56 of the Pension Rules which specify the qualifying service of ten years and also the consequences for those who do not satisfy the eligibility criterion for qualifying service. It was also brought to the Court’s notice that the gratuity and other benefits and the compassionate appointment was accepted by the applicant without raising any additional claim towards invalid pension for her deceased husband.

Accepting the aforementioned submissions, the Court held,

“An employee becomes entitled to pension by stint of his long service for the employer and, therefore, it should be seen as a reward for toiling hard and long for the employer. The Pension Rules provide for a qualifying service of 10 years for such entitlement. When the question arises as to how certain provisions of the Pension Rules are to be understood, it would be appropriate to read the provision in its context which would mean reading the statute as a whole.”

Noticing that in the present 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 Court held,

“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.”

Also considering that fact that the applicant never prayed for invalid pension for her husband and yet the Tribunal as well as the High Court granted her the unclaimed relief, the Court said,

“Such additional munificence, in addition to the job provided to the first respondent under the Rehabilitation Assistance Scheme for the sustenance of the deceased’s family, in our view, was unwarranted and the impugned order cannot be sustained.”

[State of Orissa v. Maju Naik, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1548, decided on 04.12.2019]

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