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The Supreme Court Wednesday said the time scale group captains in the Indian Air Force (IAF) will retire at the age of 57 years if engaged in ground duty and 54 for those serving in the flying branch.

A bench of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice C. Nagappan said this while rejecting the government’s appeal against the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) order holding that the time scale group captain would retire at the age of 57 while serving ground duties and 54 if serving the flying branch.

Pronouncing the order, Justice Thakur said: “We are also of the view that concerns arising from a parity in the retirement age of time scale and select officers too are more perceptional than real. At any rate, such concerns remain to be substantiated on the basis of any empirical data.”

The court further said that the “classification made by the government of India for purposes of different retirement age for time scale officers and select officers does not stand scrutiny on the touchstone of articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution as rightly held by the tribunal”.

The court said this while addressing the question whether the group captains (time scale) in the IAF were entitled to continue in service up to 54 and 57 years depending upon whether they were serving in the flying or ground duty branch of the force.

The AFT order was challenged by the Centre before the Supreme Court.

The AFT had held that group captains (time scale) were entitled to continue in service up to the age of 57 years in the ground duty branch and 54 years in the flying branch.

Under the existing rule, the time scale group captain retires at the age of 54 and the group captain in select category retires at the age of 57.

“On the material placed before us, and having regard to the rival assertions made by the parties in their respective affidavits the difference in employability of group captains (time scale) is not borne out to justify the classification made by the government,” the court said.

The court further said it was evident from the particulars given by the group captains (time scale) that several group captains (time scale) have held appointments which are also held by group captains (select).

“If that be so, the difference in the employability of time scale officers vis-a-vis select officers appears to be more illusory than real,” the court said.

“There does not appear to be any hard and fast rule on the question of deployment or employability of group captains (time scale) or group captains (select) for that matter,” it said.

“The Air HQ can,” the court said, “depending upon its perception, order deployment and post any officer found suitable for the job.

“Deployment remains an administrative matter and unless the same involves any reduction in pay, allowances or other benefits or reduction in rank or status of an officer legally impermissible, such deployment remains an administrative prerogative of the competent authority.”

The court said: “Suffice it to say that the basis for classification in question for purposes of age of superannuation which the appellant (Centre) has projected is much too tenuous to be accepted as a valid basis for giving to the time scale officers a treatment different from the one given to the select officers.”

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