Pension constitutes a fundamental right & deprivation of even a part of it cannot be accepted, except in accordance with the authority of law, the Nagpur bench of the High Court of Bombay held on Thursday.
The bench of Justices Ravi Deshpande & NB Suryawanshi was hearing a plea filed by Naini Gopal, a Nagpur resident who retired as an assistant foreman from Ordnance Factory, Bhandara in Oct 1994. The petitioner complaining of action by the Centralised Pension Processing Centre of the State Bank of India in recovering an amount of Rs 369,035 from his pension by deducting it in monthly instalments of Rs 11,400
The bank responded to the petition stating that an amount of Rs 782 was mistakenly being paid in excess to the 85-year-old since Oct 2007, due to a technical error. SBI maintained that it was because the petitioner’s pension was fixed, treating him as personnel below officer rank, instead of a civil pensioner, & claimed that the Reserve Bank of India had authorised it to recover the excess pension paid mistakenly.
However, the HC 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 85-year old’s pension. The bench struck down the action of the bank observing that it can’t fix pension payable to retired employees.
The Court said that “Pension payable to employees upon superannuation is ‘property’ under Article 300-A of the Constitution of India & 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 & authority of law”.
“We, therefore, hold that the action of the bank to reduce the pension of the petitioner is unauthorised & illegal,” the bench said, & directed the bank to stop the recovery & 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 Rs 50,000 on the bank & 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 Rs 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, & 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.
High Court noted that the petitioner is of 85 years of age & has a huge liability of looking after his 45-year-old specially-abled daughter, who also requires costly medical treatment.
The Court said that “Instead of showing sensitivity to the problems of senior citizens, the bank has shown arrogance, & the petitioner was driven from pillar to post to know the reason for deduction of the amount from the pension payable to him”.