Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of R.K. Deshpande and N.B. Suryawanshi, JJ., while addressing an issue with regard to the deduction of pension by the Bank without any confirmation from the employer, observed that,
“The pension payable to the employees upon superannuation is a ‘property’ under Article 300-A of the Constitution of India and it constitutes a fundamental right to livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”
“Pension cannot be deducted without authority of law.”
Petitioner a retired assistant foreman had a basic pension of Rs 1,334 as on 01-10-1994, consequent upon an increase in the pension and dearness allowance, the basic pension of Rs 25, 634 was fixed, for which the petitioner was entitled to and accordingly he was paid.
Right to Information Act, 2005
In the month of August, 2019 petitioner’s pension was reduced without consent or knowledge of the petitioner and thus he filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 to know the reason for deduction and details as to the revision of the pension during the period 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Excess Payment of Pension
Respondent stated that there was an excess payment of pension to the petitioner.
Petitioner in view of the above approached the Court challenging the action of the respondent and sought a further direction to the respondents to restore the position in respect of payment of pension, prevailing prior to the deduction which commenced from 01-08-2019.
Excess Payment by SBI
State Bank of India-respondent stated that an amount of Rs 872 per month was erroneously paid in excess to the petitioner due to technical error in the system.
Reserve Bank of India
According to Circular No.RBI/2015-16/340-DGBA.GAD.No.2960/45.01.001/2015-16 dated 17-3-2016, clause (c), the bank claims to have an authority to recover the excess payment to the petitioner.
“c) In case the pensioner expresses his inability to pay the amount, the same may be adjusted from the future pension payments to be made to the pensioners. For recovering the over-payment made to pensioner from his future pension payment in installments 1/3rd of net (pension + relief) payable each month may be recovered unless the pensioner concerned gives consent in writing to pay a higher installment amount.”
Employer’s stand is very clear in the present case that the fixation of the petitioner’s pension was correct and proper.
Further, the employer has supported the claim of the petitioner and has no role to play in the matter of reduction of pension or its recovery.
Bench states that it is not the authority of the Bank to fix the entitlement of the pension amount of the employees other than the employees of the respondent-Bank.
Hence the action of the Bank to reduce the pension of the petitioner is unauthorised and illegal.
Furthermore, the Bank has failed to demonstrate any technical error in the calculations.
With regard to the RBI clause as stated above, Court stated that “once we hold that in fact there was no excess payment made to the petitioner, the question of applicability of the instructions issued by the RBI or undertaking given by the petitioner does not arise.”
Principles of Natural Justice
Without following the principles of natural justice in the manner of either carrying out correspondence with regard to the correctness of the pension or an explanation in respect of the deduction, the said action on the part of the Bank is arbitrary, unreasonable, unauthorised and in flagrant violation of the principles of natural justice.
Breach of Trust
Bank is the trustee of the pensioner’s account and has no authority in the eyes of the law to dispute the entitlement of the pension payable to the employees other than those who are employed in the bank.
To tamper with the account is nothing but a breach of trust.
Court directed Bank to refund the amount of Rs 3,26,045 to the petitioner by crediting it in his pension account with interest at the rate of 18% p.a. from the date of deduction.
Further, the bank is required to be directed to pay the costs of Rs 50,000 to the petitioner towards the expenses of this petition.
Unfortunately, the time has come to tell the Bank that the aging is natural process, which leads to weakening of the body and mind.
Adding to its conclusion, Court stated that the Bank officials must realize that tomorrow it may be their turn, upon superannuation, to fight for the pension or post-retiral benefits. The thought process, therefore, to be adopted should be of a person in a situation like the petitioner.
Respect, dignity, care, sensitivity, assistance, and security would automatically follow.
It is a high time for the Banks to create a separate cell and to device a method to provide personal service through the men of confidence, at the door-step to the old aged, disabled and sick persons who are the senior citizens.
Bench directed registry to forward the copies of the Judgment to the Centralized Processing Pension Centres of all the Nationalized Banks and also to the Reserve Bank of India and the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra, to consider the question of the constitution of separate cell and release of appropriate guidelines so as to attain the constitutional goal of providing respect, dignity, care, sensitivity, assistance and security to all the pension account holders in the Banks.[Naini Gopal v. Union of India, LD-VC-CW-665 of 2020, decided on 20-08-2020]