By Vishal Narayan
New Delhi, Feb 21 (IANS) An administrative botch-up has deprived hundreds of Delhi University (DU) retirees of their pension since 2014, with the varsity telling a court here that it cannot abide by an August 2016 order to pay as it doesn’t have the money to do so. The case will now be taken up on April 17.
In the decade from 1989 to 1999, Delhi University (DU) gave its employees the option through circulars to choose between Contributory Provident Fund (CPF) or pension upon retirement. It gave this option not once or twice but 11 times in total.
However, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which funds central universities like DU, asked that the option be stopped in 1999 saying it did not have the power to do so. By this time several employees had exercised their choice in choosing for either pension or CPF through these circulars, while there were many who did not choose either.
The DU circulars had come following a central government order dated May 1, 1987. The order stated that “all CPF beneficiaries… will be deemed to have come over to the Pension Scheme” from the date mentioned before, unless they explicitly request to remain in CPF by informing this to their offices on or before September 30 of the same year.
Almost two decades later, in an unrelated case, a court here ruled in 2006 that a similar option given by the Bureau Of Indian Standards (BIS) was not in order as it was applicable only until September 30, 1987. Those who did not make a choice till that date would be treated as pensioners when they retired.
The court, then, ruled that the September 30, 1987, date was sacrosanct and all central government employees, as per the recommendation of the Fourth Central Pay Commission, will be deemed to have come into pension without their having specifically expressed so.
The BIS case galvanised into action scores of DU employees who either had expressed their desire to come into pension after the cut-off date of September 30, 1987, or had refrained from explicitly choosing either.
Many of these employees started approaching the Delhi High Court which consolidated all such pleas into three categories – category 1 and category 3 for employees cited above, and category 2 comprising those who chose CPF before the cut-off date — and delivered a combined judgement on April 30, 2014.
In a single bench judgement the court ruled that two categories (1 and 3) were eligible for pension and directed the DU to proceed accordingly. The court based its judgement on the ground laid during the BIS judgement in 2006, which upheld the indisputability of cut-off date as the final date before which an option to remain in CPF could be made, and which was irreversible.
However, DU decided to challenge this verdict.
Also in an open letter to teachers, unwittingly or wittingly, Dinesh Singh, the then Vice Chancellor, acknowledged that the university was not entitled to extend the option of choosing between the CPF and pension.
“During the period 1988 to 1999, the University had granted extensions to employees to move over from CPF to GPF-cum-pension scheme. The University and its EC (Executive Council) believed that they had the power to do so on their own and thus thousands of employees in all sincerity had exercised the above options and were drawing, or now expect to draw pension upon retirement,” Singh wrote in his letter dated August 21, 2014, just days before the court judgement came.
But “unfortunately” in approaching the court, the employees, Singh continued, “ended up challenging the validity of the options granted by the University and the legitimate exercise of these options by all University employees between 1988 and 1999”.
“It seems that the V C either wasn’t aware of the BIS case which had, in effect, already rendered those circulars illegal, or, he didn’t understand its implications,” Amarnath Gupta, a retired Associate Professor from the university and an active member of Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) Pension Committee, told IANS.
“The DU staff moved the court after the very BIS case thinking that the option chosen by them for pension will not stand since the cut-off for doing was already pronounced to be long over on September 30, 1987… but they rightly got the succour from the court, since they didn’t explicitly have to choose pension at any time, it was automatically done on October 1, 1987, if they hadn’t explicitly selected for CPF,” he said.
The DU then received another blow when a division bench of the High Court upheld the 2014 judgement on its ruling dated August 24, 2016, giving the university three months time to start paying the retirees which it had stopped after the 2014 judgement.
“In spite of being directed by the Delhi High Court to start disbursing pension, which ruled it in its August judgement last year, the university has not budged,” Gupta complained.
After almost five months of the verdict, the university is yet to resume the pensions of the employees. It also seeks to challenge the verdict, as directed by the HRD ministry.
On the other hand, “a contempt of court notice was slapped on the university for not adhering to the court order,” Gupta said.
He also added that during its first hearing on January 19 this year, the DU cited lack of funds for not being able to disburse pensions and the court reprimanded it for not fulfilling its responsibility as an employer.
The case is next due to be heard on April 17.
A total of 636 (teaching and non-teaching) DU employees stand to be affected by how things play out in the future. Of them, 518 are retired and have had their pension on hold and 118 are yet to retire.
(Vishal Narayan can be contacted at [email protected])