Rajasthan High Court

Rajasthan High Court: In a writ petition challenging the order of withholding of the petitioner’s retiral benefits, including pension and gratuity, citing the pendency of criminal proceedings, a single-judge bench comprising of Ganesh Ram Meena,* J., held that withholding the retiral benefits was unjustified and affirmed the right of employees to receive their pension and gratuity regardless of the pendency of criminal proceedings unrelated to their official duties. The Court emphasised on the importance of protecting employees’ livelihood post-retirement.

“Taking away or withholding such benefits after retirement amounts to depriving the petitioner from the right to life because the retiral benefits are the sources by which the petitioner and his family arrange for their bread and other necessities.”

Factual Matrix

In the instant matter, the petitioner was employed as a Male Nurse Grade-II on 17-01-1985 and was later promoted to Male Nurse Grade-I on 12-08-2008. Upon reaching the age of superannuation, the petitioner retired from service on 31-08-2023. An FIR was registered against the petitioner on 10-07-2021 for offenses including Sections 498-A and 406 of IPC and Sections 4 and 6 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, filed by the petitioner’s son’s in-laws. The police submitted a charge-sheet against the petitioner for the mentioned offenses, and the trial is pending. The Chief Medical and Health Officer, Sikar submitted a misconduct report regarding the petitioner, but no departmental proceedings were initiated against him. Despite the absence of any departmental proceedings, the Assistant Director, Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare Department, directed stopping the petitioner’s retiral benefits. Aggrieved by the impugned decision, the petitioner filed a petition seeking the quashing of the order stopping his pension and other retiral benefits.

Moot Point

Whether the retiral benefits, including pension and gratuity, can be withheld from an employee solely based on the pendency of criminal proceedings unrelated to the employee’s official duties, especially when no departmental proceedings are pending against the employee?

Court’s Observation

The Court referred to H.R. Choudhary v. Central Administrative Tribunal, D.B. Civil Writ Petition No. 12437/2012, order dated 27-01-2017, where it was emphasised that withholding pension and gratuity due to criminal proceedings unrelated to official duties is arbitrary and illegal, Pramod Singh Kirar v. State of M.P., (2023) 1 SCC 423, where the Supreme Court held that a candidate acquitted in a criminal case unrelated to his duties should not be denied appointment or retiral benefits and Lalit Kumar Jain v. State of Rajasthan, 1995 SCC OnLine Raj 141, P.K. Pradhan v. State of Sikkim, (2001) 6 SCC 704 and Sau Sheela Rameshchandra Bargaje v. Administrative Officer, 2021 SCC OnLine Bom 3664, to support the principle that retiral benefits should not be withheld based on non-job-related criminal proceedings.

The Court asserted that pension and gratuity are rights accrued by employees for their service and cannot be withheld arbitrarily. The Court held that withholding retiral benefits solely due to pending criminal proceedings, unrelated to the employee’s official duties, is unjustified. The Court emphasised that the benefits accrue to the employee for services rendered and should not be deprived based on non-job-related legal matters. The Court also interpreted Rule 90 of the Rajasthan Pension Rules, 1996, noting that it applied to proceedings related to acts of employees in their official capacity and family disputes unrelated to official duties do not fall within its scope.

The Court noted that the allegations against the petitioner did not involve official misconduct, and he had an unblemished service record of 38 years. The Court highlighted the petitioner’s lengthy service record and the absence of any official misconduct allegations against him, reinforcing the injustice of withholding his retiral benefits. The Court also emphasised on the importance of protecting employees’ livelihood post-retirement.

“The basic object behind crediting the benefit of pension, gratuity and other retiral benefits is that after retirement when an employee is of an old age, may not face any financial problem for his livelihood or necessities more particularly in cases who are alone or are neglected by the persons who are supposed to maintain them.”

Court’s Decision

The court ruled in favor of the petitioner and set aside the order stopping the process of payment of pension and other retiral benefits. The Court directed the respondents to release the retiral benefits to the petitioner within two months and ordered interest on the due retiral benefits if not paid within the specified time.

[Mahesh Chandra Soni v. State of Rajasthan, 2024 SCC OnLine Raj 730, order dated 06-03-2024]

*Judgment by Justice Ganesh Ram Meena

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Harendra Neel and Ms. Sarah Sharma for Mr. Vigyan Shah, Counsel for the Petitioner

Dr. Vibhuti Bhushan Sharma, AAG with Ms. Malti, AGC, Counsel for the Respondents

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