Pension a fundamental right, cannot be deducted without authority of law: HC

Pension constitutes a fundamental right and deprivation of even a part of it cannot be accepted, except in accordance with the authority of law, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court (HC) held on Thursday.

The bench of justice Ravi Deshpande and justice NB Suryawanshi was hearing a petition filed by Naini Gopal, a Nagpur resident who retired as an assistant foreman from Ordnance Factory, Bhandara in October 1994. The petitioner complaining of action by the Centralised Pension Processing Centre of the State Bank of India in recovering an amount of ₹369,035 from his pension by deducting it in monthly installments of ₹11,400

The bank responded to the petition stating that an amount of ₹782 was mistakenly being paid in excess to the 85-year-old since October 2007, due to a technical error. SBI maintained that it was because the petitioner’s pension was fixed, treating him as a personnel below officer rank, instead of a civil pensioner, and claimed that the Reserve Bank of India had authorised it to recover the excess pension paid mistakenly.

HC, however, rejected the argument after noticing that the bank failed to demonstrate the technical mistake. The judges held that there was no good reason to deduct the amount from the petitioner’s pension, after the Ordnance Factory pointed that there was no error in fixing the the 85 year old’s pension. The bench struck down the action of the bank observing that it cannot fix pension payable to retired employees.

“Pension payable to employees upon superannuation is ‘property’ under Article 300-A of the Constitution of India and it constitutes a fundamental right to livelihood under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The deprivation, even a part of this amount, cannot be accepted, except in accordance with and authority of law,” said the bench.

“We, therefore, hold that the action of the bank to reduce the pension of the petitioner is unauthorised and illegal,” the bench said, and directed the bank to stop the recovery and credit the amount recovered so far to the pension account of the petitioner.

Irked with the “insensitive” approach of the bank officers towards the senior citizen, HC has also imposed a cost of ₹50,000 on the bank and directed it to deposit the amount in the petitioner’s pension account in eight days, failing which the bank will have to pay a fine of ₹1,000 for every day of delay.

In this regard, the bench said a bank is a trustee of its account holders like the petitioner, and has no authority in the eyes of law to dispute the amount of pension payable to an employee, other than those in its own employment.

HC noted that the petitioner is of 85 years of age and has a huge liability of looking after his 45-year-old specially-abled daughter, who also requires costly medical treatment. “Instead of showing sensitivity to the problems of senior citizens, the bank has shown arrogance, and the petitioner was driven from pillar to post to know the reason for deduction of the amount from the pension payable to him,” said the court.

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