LAND MARK JUDGMENT SAYS IT IS A VITAL ASPECT TO
SOCIAL SECURITY AND A RIGHT TO LIFE
Pensioners now have a reason to smile. In a landmark judgment, the Bombay high court has held that pension is a vital aspect of social security and that the right to receive it constitutes a right to life under the Constitution. Moreover, it held that pension must be paid regularly in the first week of the month.
“Deprive a pensioner of the payment and you deprive him or her of the right to life. Delayed payments place a pensioner in a position of uncertainty and dependence, which impinges on the quality of life under Article 21 and the right to dignified existence of the aged”, said justice DY Chandrachud recently, while directing the transport undertaking of the Solapur Municipal Corporation to deposit the pensions of 13 retired employees on the first day of the succeeding month or latest by the seventh day.
The judge noted that pensioners can’t be left to the mercy of the administration to receive what is a matter of right. “Pensioners must lead their lives with a sense of self-respect and dignity”, he held as he innovatively developed the right of senior citizens, especially pensioners, in consonance with the guarantees expected under the Constitution.
The judgment was passed in a case where the Solapur civic body has challenged a direction of an industrial court, which labeled its action of delaying pension payments inordinately each month as a UN fair labour practice and directed it to credit the monthly pension by the first day of each month. The civic body explained that it was in financial difficulties and said it could pay by the 15th and not the first. The civic body argued that the Maharashtra Civil Services (Pension) Rules did not mandate payment by the first of each month. It said payment has to be made” on or after the first day….”
But observing that “Pensionary payments are neither a largesse nor a charity by the state, but rather a legal right of the retired” and interpreting the law, Justice Chandrachud said “on or after” did not mean that the payment could be delayed indiscriminately as it would otherwise” defeat the pensioner’s entitlement and make his rights and means for sustaining life illusory”.
The principles of pension make it implicit that it must be paid in a regular manner and not at the whims of the authority, the HC said. Even on the 15th or 20th of a month as in this case would be unreasonable, the court said.
“Constitutional rights can’t be looked upon as mere debits in balance – sheets. They represent real entitlement of citizens, sanctified even by international law, “the judge said, holding that “where social security has been made a law, the executive is duty – bound to implement it by making budgetary allocations and administrative infrastructure to ensure timely disbursal”.
The court noted that as life expectancy increases and the population of the aged rises, the law must recognize their concerns, “the problems of the aged have become acute with changing social structure. The law must protect those who contributed to society and assure them a sense of dignity in their twilight years. Insensitivity of the state must not hasten the onset of darkness.
Pensioners Advocate – January 2009.