Delhi High Court: A Division Bench of Suresh Kumar Kait and Saurabh Banerjee, JJ. held that discriminatory views for personnel of different forces deployed in common areas for grant of HRA cannot be taken and hence, directed the Centre and other authorities to take necessary steps within six weeks, in consultation with Ministry of Home Affairs to grant HRA to the petitioners.
The petitioners were group Officers in Grade-A in the Border Security Force (BSF) and were holding posts in the rank of Assistant Commandant, Deputy Commandant and Second-in-Command. The petitioners stated that despite construction of the family accommodations, the petitioners and other similarly situated officers were still not provided with the Government accommodation at the place where they were posted or the locations where the separated family accommodations had been constructed. Therefore, the petitioners face problems in keeping their families at the place of their postings, especially at the border or difficult areas where there was lack of basic educational and medical facilities.
The petitioners stated that in 1999, the Government of India had approved construction of separate family accommodations with the purpose that if the Officer was not getting accommodation at the place of his posting, he shall be entitled to a separate family accommodation, at various locations where the BSF had constructed houses, by paying 10% of the standard rent. Despite this approval, the petitioners were not provided Government Accommodation, nor were they being paid House Rent Allowance (HRA) for keeping their families at separate locations. Further, the competent authority under the Seventh Pay Commission recommended that the personnel of the uniformed services could keep their families at any location, and they would be paid HRA for the same. However, this recommendation was confined only to the Personnel Below Officer Rank and Group-A Officers were kept out of this recommendation.
The petitioners preferred a representation for grant of similar benefit as had been granted to Personnel Below Officer Rank, which had been forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), but the same was rejected by a letter by the MHA.
Submissions on behalf of the Petitioners
Counsel for the petitioners submitted that the respondents had failed to appreciate the nature of duties and place of postings of petitioners, which on occasions not even had basic amenities to keep their families, including children, with them and so, the respondents could not deny grant of HRA for the place where petitioners and such like officers kept their families. Further, it was submitted that the Group-A Officers deployed in paramilitary forces worked under the same conditions as that of the Personnel Below Officer Rank, therefore, if the benefit of HRA was extended to Personnel Below Officer Ranks, then the same could not be denied to the Group-A Officers. Thus, it was contended that the respondents could not be permitted to keep double standards for employees in the same force and posted in the same area.
Submissions on behalf of the Respondents
Counsel for the respondents submitted that they only implemented the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, which was a policy decision under the instructions of Government of India. Further, it was submitted that the Seventh Pay Commission recommended relaxation of HRA norms only in respect of Personnel Below Officer Ranks.
Further, it was submitted that as per Rule 41 of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Rules, 1995, “all members of the Force, other than the officers, who were required to reside at or near the place of their duty for the proper discharge of duty, should be provided with rent free accommodation or house rent allowance in lieu thereof, limited to the actual amount or house rent paid by the member concerned subject to a maximum of 10% of pay and subject to the condition that the accommodation was conveniently near to the premises in which their regular duties had to be performed”.
Lastly, it was submitted that the Officers of the force were allowed to keep their families at some safe location at Group Centers or alike places where proper education & health facilities were available, but they were not entitled to get separate family accommodation at any location as per their choice as no such provision existed in the existing rule and thus, this petition deserved to be dismissed.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Court noted that “the Officers were required to stay in the fields, far off from all necessary amenities while leaving their families behind and the competent authority of Seventh Pay Commission also recognized the lack of proper compensation and the need of paying HRA to these employees”. Further, the Court opined that “this Court was unable to find any reason as to why officers belonging to the rank of Officers, should not be granted similar benefit more so as the factum of their serving at far of locations had been recognized and it could not be differentiated based on cadre”.
The Court held that the respondents could not be permitted to take discriminatory views for personnel of different forces deployed in common areas for grant of HRA. Thus, the letter rejecting petitioners’ request for grant of HRA were set aside. The Court further directed the respondents that the benefit of HRA should not be confined to only Personnel Below Officer Ranks but should be extended to all the personnel of the Forces irrespective of their rank, as per their entitlement.
Thus, the Court held that the respondents were directed to take necessary steps within six weeks of this judgment, in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as Ministry of Finance, to grant benefit of HRA to the petitioners.
[Praveen Yadav v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 4461, decided on 16-12-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the Petitioners: Advocate Ankur Chhibber;
Advocate Anshuman Mehrotra;
For the Respondents: CGSC Bhagwan Swarup Shukla;
Advocate Sarvan Kumar;
Advocate Sanjeev Uniyal;
Advocate Dhawal Uniyal;
AC (Law) BSF Paramveer Singh.