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Subhashini Rajan and Ors. Vs. Union of India and Ors. - (High Court of Delhi) (26 Apr 2021)

Pension Scheme could not be extended to employees who were specifically excluded by the legislation from its ambit



The present writ petition has been filed by 82 Petitioners, being ex employees of different Public Sector Insurance Companies (PSICs), challenging the vires of Life Insurance Corporation of India (Employees) Pension (Amendment) Rules, 2019 and the General Insurance (Employees) Pension (Amendment) Scheme, 2019 for being discriminatory in nature and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, 1950 in as they seek to exclude persons such as the Petitioners, who had resigned/left the services of their respective PSICs before coming into force of such amendments. The Petitioners seek a direction to extend mutatis mutandis, the option of pension to the Petitioners in the same manner as has been offered to other left over employees of the PSICs, who had retired or taken voluntary retirement or had expired, before coming into force of the said amendment.

The grievance of the Petitioners is that, "Final Pension Option" that was introduced in terms of the aforesaid amendments was extended to serving, retired (including those having taken voluntary retirement) and the families of the deceased employees, but not extended to employees who resigned/left/discontinued the services, which included the Petitioners. The Petitioners sent representations to the Chairperson of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation, Lok Sabha ventilating their grievances with regard to the said amendments. However, the said representations were rejected. Aggrieved by the same, the Petitioners had approached the Supreme Court by way of petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, which was withdrawn with liberty to approach the High Court. Pursuant to the said liberty, present petition was filed in this Court challenging the said amendments as being arbitrary and discriminatory.

The amendments brought about by the Public Sector Insurance Companies on 23rd April, 2019, sought to provide one more final option of 90 days to the employees of the PSICs to opt for the Pension Rules/Scheme. In their wisdom, the Respondents determined that the said Final Option should only be provided to employees (i) who were in service of the PSICs before 28th June, 1995 and were still in service on the date when the said amendment was notified viz. 23rd April, 2019 (amendment date); (ii) who were in service of PSICs before 28th June, 1995 but had retired before the amendment date; and, (iii) who were in service of the PSICs before 28th June, 1995 and had died while in service before the amendment date or had retired but died before the amendment date. There was a conscious decision to exclude employees such as the Petitioners who had resigned or had otherwise left the services of the PSICs before the amendment date.

Such exclusion cannot be termed as discriminatory or arbitrary or violative of Article 14 of the Constitution by any stretch of imagination. The two categories of employees constituted separate classes and there was an intelligible differentia that prevailed between them. The employees such as the Petitioners presumably left the employment of PSICs and sought employment elsewhere. They cannot have the best of both the worlds, on one hand, earning salary or other remuneration on account of employment/other engagement after they left the services of PSICs, and on the other hand, seek advantage of beneficial schemes introduced by the PSICs after they had left the employment of PSICs. The PSICs were fully justified in extending the benefit of the pension scheme only to the specified categories of employees as determined by them. As per their own case, if the Petitioners had stayed on with the PSICs till the age of 55, they would have been entitled to the benefit of 'voluntary retirement' and in that case would have been eligible for the benefits under the amendments.

The Supreme Court, in Senior Divisional Manager, Life Insurance Corporation of India Ltd. and Ors. vs. Shree Lal Meena was also seized of a similar issue. The Hon'ble Supreme Court observed/held that (i) under the Service Rules of the PSICs, resignation entails forfeiture of entire past service and consequently, would not qualify for pensionary benefits; (ii) resignation and other terms such as termination/determination of service or leaving or discontinuing service, amount to unilateral act on the part of the employee of not continuing with his/her service with the employer, followed by acceptance of terms by the said employer; (iii) even if the Pension Rules were applicable to an employee, who sought to resign, the entire past service of the employee would be forfeited and who would not qualify for pensionary benefits; (iv) when the Legislature in its wisdom brings beneficial provisions such as the Pension Regulations from a particular date and on particular terms and conditions, aspects which have been excluded cannot be included in it by implication; and, (v) accordingly, the Pension Scheme could not be extended to employees who were specifically excluded by the legislation from its ambit.

The present case is squarely covered by the dicta of the aforesaid judgment of the Hon'ble Supreme Court. In the present case, all the Petitioners resigned/left the employment of the PSICs between 2000 and 2017, before the aforesaid amendments were brought to the effect and when they were below the age of 55, so that they could not take 'voluntary retirement'. The said category of employees was squarely excluded from the ambit of the amendments and it was the specific intent of the Legislature not to extend the benefit of Pension Rules/Scheme to such categories of employees. The excluded categories, such as the Petitioners constituted a separate class based on an intelligible differentia. The said exclusion cannot be said to be discriminatory or arbitrary or violative of Article 14 in any manner. In our view, there is no merit in the writ petition. Petition dismissed.


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