Divine justice for Naval Reservists by Supreme Court of India
Divine Justice for Naval personnel not placed on reserves due to change of policy in 1976
This is a case wherein the Indian Navy tried its hand in enthusiastically getting the reservist pension granted by the Chennai Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal to an old sailor set aside by the Supreme Court but ended up with an order for grant of ‘Special Pension’ in favour of all similarly placed personnel, irrespective of whether they have approached Courts or not.
The Navy had a system of 10 years active service followed by 10 years in the fleet reserve similar to the colour + reserve scheme of the Army & the Air Force. Reservist Pension was admissible to such personnel after 15 years of combined active and reserve service. In the year 1976 however, the system of placement on reserve fleet was discontinued and all those who were on rolls (even those who had joined before 1976) were released after 10 years thereby resulting in non-grant of pension to some of such sailors.
The Chennai Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal however held in the case of one such sailor that such sailors were entitled to reservist pension since it was not these personnel who had opted out but it was the Navy which discharged them on change of policy. But on the other hand, the Principal Bench of the Tribunal dismissed such claims by similarly placed sailors. The claim for ‘Special Pension’ which is granted to personnel with 10 years of service who are released on ‘reduction in establishment’ was also not accepted for the affected sailors.
Thereafter while the Navy challenged the order of the Chennai Bench of the Tribunal against the grant of Reservist Pension, the sailors led by TS Das whose cases were dismissed by the Principal Bench, also challenged the denial of pension.
The Supreme Court in a detailed order has agreed that such sailors are not entitled to Reservist Pension essentially for the reason that even under the erstwhile system, placement on fleet reserve was not mandatory and was only to be effectuated ‘if required’. However, on threadbare examination of the issue, the Supreme Court has reached the conclusion that discontinuing the system of active-reserve service amounted to reduction of establishment and such personnel would definitely be entitled to ‘Special Pension’. Consequently, the Court has ordered that Special Pension be released to all such affected sailors, not just limited to those who had filed cases before the Tribunal.
One ideally would have expected the top Naval brass to come to the rescue of such sailors, some in extreme old age, who had been denied reservist pension due to sudden change in policy by convincing the Government to come up with a scheme to help such sailors tide over difficulties in the twilight of their lives, but instead, they chose to fight tooth and nail against benefits granted to one such sailor. It can also be said with due certainty that the Navy would have not even informed the Supreme Court that a Committee of Experts constituted by the Raksha Mantri had already rendered a positive recommendation for such personnel as far as their pension is concerned.
But then, divine justice by the Court wherein not just the litigants, but all such affected sailors would now have a comparatively comfortable life in the few years that they are left with. One can only hope that the few such personnel who are now living are identified at the earliest by the Navy and the decision given effect to without posing any further hyper-technical impediments.