SC Says Pension Provisions Should Be Given a Liberal Construction

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In the case of V. Sukumaran v State of Kerala, the Supreme Court asked for a liberal interpretation of pensionary provisions keeping in mind the social welfare. The bench comprised of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice Aniruddha Bose.

Brief facts of the case

The appellant is a retired Government employee who has served in the Department of Fisheries of State Government of Kerala and the Revenue Department of Kannur District. 

The details about his employment are as follows:

  • He joined the Dept. of Fisheries as Casual Labour Roll on 7.7.1976.
  • He worked there for seven years, four months, and twenty-three days in the CLR capacity.
  • He joined the Revenue Dept through participation in a direct recruitment process.
  • He sought an interdepartmental transfer back to the Fisheries Dept. It was granted effective 19.9.1987.
  • He was made a regular employee and then retired.

The appellant made a representation to the Assistant Director of the Fisheries Dept asking for orders that would add his service as a CLR in the department to his total years of service. Fisheries Department recommended this to the State Government but the latter rejected it. As a consequence, the other workers who worked alongside the appellant and were absorbed into the Fisheries Department as a permanent worker unlike the appellant, who transferred departments, received the benefits of certain Government orders. 

The appellant then prayed to the High Court to consider his eight years of employment as CLR under the Fisheries Department in his total term of service. But the prayer was rejected and hence this appeal.

Arguments

The appellant submits that there were 29 SLR posts to regularize the CLR works who had completed 500 days of work. If he had continued and not switched departments, then he would have found a place in one of the positions. To support his claims, he showed that he had worked for 1678 days and was the second senior-most of the employees.

Further, a G.O. of 2006 if 200 days of work as a CLR in a calendar year is equal to 1 year of regular service, and it qualifies for pension. Thus, the appellant is entitled to 8 years of qualifying service of pension.

Further, the rejection by the State Government to extend the benefit of the G.O. to him was wrongful.

The Respondent submitted that the appellant is beyond the purview of the G.O. of 2006. Hence he cannot claim the benefit of the same. Rule 4(f)(iii) of the Pension Rules would have extended to him only if he would have remained employed under the Fisheries Department. 

Court’s Observations

The Court stated that these pension provisions are for the benefit of society. They must be given a liberal interpretation as a social welfare measure. This means while interpreting such provision, one must keep in mind their basic intent. The idea is to enable a retired Government employee to live a life of dignity in his winter of life and hence they should not be denied to the employee based on technicalities. 

It was observed that by denying the appellant such benefits would be treating him inferior among his other workers who didn’t take the option of direct recruitment and instead availed regularization through the Fisheries Department. It would amount to whittling away long years of services.

The Court stated that the G.O. applies to the appellant in this case. Also, the fact that only 27 out of 29 posts were filled is irrelevant. Because even if the posts were filled, a new post would have been created for the appellant.

The Court used Rule 13 of the Service Rules to justify their reasoning. 

Court’s Decision

The Court held that:

  • The appellant is entitled to succeed in the present appeal and the impugned order is set aside.
  •  The rejection of the recommendation of the Fisheries Department by the State Government was improper.
  • The eight years of service as CLR should be included in the appellant’s total term of service for pension.
  • The arrears of pensions are to be remitted to the appellant within eight weeks at most with accepted interest.

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