Plea in High Court against linking Aadhaar to UAN to avail Provident Fund, pension

A petition has been filed in the Madras High Court challenging the notification mandating linking of Aadhaar with Universal Account Number (UAN) for availing pension and provident fund benefits.

In the plea, Elisha Ebenezer, a software engineer, claimed the notification dated January 4, 2017 was unconstitutional for being violative of Articles 14, 21 and 300A of the Constitution and contrary to the directives of the Supreme Court, which made it clear that Aadhaar was mandatory only to avail benefits under various government-run social welfare schemes and subsidies.

A division bench of Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad admitted the plea and directed the Employee Provident Fund Organisation to respond.

The petitioner submitted that prior to the January, 2017 notification, the use of Aadhaar was limited to only those members who had begun receiving their pension and who were required to provide life certificates each year to continue receiving the pension.

However, in view of the notification, now all members of the pension scheme would have to link their Aadhaar with their UAN just to continue their membership in the pension scheme.

The petitioner submitted that the pension fund comprises regular contributions from the employee’s salary and therefore to deprive pensioners of the amount citing non-linkage of Aadhaar would also entail a violation of the right to property under Article 300A of the Constitution.

“The present requirement of linking UAN with Aadhaar interferes with my right to operate and deal with my provident fund, which has no government contribution,” the petitioner claimed.

Further, the petitioner submitted that the present requirement also prevented her from saving for her old age or accessing the amounts saved till date in the pension account.

Pension and other benefits to former MPs justified: SC

The Centre today told the Supreme Court that the entitlement of former Member of Parliament (MPs) to get pension and other benefits was “justified” as their dignity has to be maintained even after they complete their tenure as parliamentarians.

Attorney General K K Venugopal told a bench comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul that MPs have to “nurse their constituencies” and contest elections every five year and for this, they have to travel in their respective constituencies.

Venugopal made the arguments while opposing a petition which has raised several questions, including how the MPs could themselves determine their salaries and perks, It has also sought the scrapping of pension to them and their family members.

“Parliament is the law-making authority. Parliament has to ensure that so far as MPs are concerned, they can function effectively,” he told the bench, adding, “MPs have to go for elections every five year. They have to go to their constituencies and travel. So giving pension to them is justified.”

During the arguments, S N Shukla, general secretary of petitioner NGO ‘Lok Prahari’, referred to a report and claimed that 82 per cent of the MPs were ‘crorepati’ and taxpayers cannot be burdened with paying pension to former MPs and their family members.

To this, the bench said, “Let the taxpayers vote them out. Let them do it. We cannot stop them. You are making grand statements. Should we go into the data of how many bureaucrats are ‘crorepati’. Should we go into it? It is not permissible for us to go into this kind of a debate”.

At the outset, the Attorney General referred to a constitution bench judgement and said the issues raised in the plea were fully covered by the verdict of a larger bench.

He said what the petitioner was arguing would “belittle the competence of the Parliament” and it was not possible to compare the pension and benefits given to other public servants with that of former parliamentarians.

“You cannot compare one set of constitutional authority with the other. So question of Article 14 (equality before law) does not arise at all. Nobody’s rights are affected,” Venugopal said, adding, “their (MPs) dignity has to be maintained even after completion of their tenure”.

“The entire challenge on the basis of that they should not be given the benefits, is wholly misconceived,” he told the bench, which reserved its verdict on the plea.

The Attorney General also told the bench that the Centre has “given up” the idea of having an independent mechanism to determine the salaries and allowances of the MPs.

The petitioner told the court that the issue concerns taxpayers’ money and giving pension and other benefits to former MPs was discriminatory.

To this, the bench said, “You cannot compare it like this. Your submission is that equate a bureaucrat with a parliamentarian”.

“We agree with you that this is not an ideal situation, but this is not for the court to decide,” the bench told the petitioner and asked whether there was any other democracy in the world where such questions were debated in the court.

When Shukla referred to a media report, the bench shot back, “freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed and we cannot stop that”.

The court had yesterday observed that parliamentarians determining their salary and perks themselves was an “moral” and “ethical issue”.

The Centre had told the bench about the Finance Bill 2018 which contains provisions regarding salary and pension of MPs and also about revision of their allowances after every five years starting from April 1, 2023, on the basis of cost inflation index.

The apex court had last month directed the Centre to clarify its stand on setting up of an independent mechanism for determination of salaries and allowances of MPs after the government had said the issue was “under consideration”.

The apex court had in March last year agreed to examine the constitutional validity of laws granting pension and other perks to retired MPs and had sought responses from the Centre and ECI on the issue.

The NGO has approached the apex court challenging the Allahabad High Court order dismissing its plea which had claimed that pension and other perks being given to MPs even after demitting office were contrary to Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution.

The plea has also said that Parliament has no power to provide for pensionary benefits to lawmakers without making any law.

Court cancels freedom fighter’s pension of octogenarian

The Gauhati High Court has barred an octogenarian from getting the freedom fighter’s pension due to lack of documents to prove his imprisonment during the independence struggle, an official said here Saturday.

The court found that octogenarian Anil Krishna Sarkar did not have certificates to prove that he was a freedom fighter and cancelled the pension that he had been drawing since 1975.

‘The Agartala bench of the high court Friday revoked the recognition and the freedom fighter’s pension of Anil Krishna Sarkar as he could not submit proper documents in support of his claim as freedom fighter,’ the central government’s Assistant Solicitor General Pijush Kanti Biswas told.

The court took this decision following a complaint against Sarkar.

In Tripura, a freedom fighter gets a pension of Rs.14,000 from the central government and Rs.500 from the state government.

Biswas said as per the guidelines of the central government any person claiming to be a freedom fighter has to submit a certificate of a co-prisoner or the jail authorities where he/she was lodged during the independence struggle.

‘Sarkar claimed that he was lodged in Comilla jail of the then East Pakistan now Bangladesh as a freedom fighter for nine months between 1942-43, but he could not submit the certificate of a co-prisoner or the jail authorities,’ Biswas said.

‘He only submitted certificates from a sub-divisional magistrate, of Sadar sub-division of Tripura, and a local legislator,’ Biswas said.

Government planning to raise widows’ pension

The women and child development ministry Monday mooted various proposals to better the lives of widows in the country, including raising the pension to Rs. 1,500 a month.

Releasing a study on the condition of widows in the Braj area of Uttar Pradesh here, D.K. Sikri, secretary of the ministry, said the ministry was planning to raise the pension of widows from the paltry Rs.200-550 to Rs.1,500 a month. If she has children to support, the widow’s pension amount should be Rs.2,500 per month.

The study, conducted by the Guild for Services with the support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem), said that though 70 percent of the widows have heard of the pension scheme, only a quarter of them received the money.

Eighty-two percent of the widows said they knew about the scheme but didn’t know how to apply for it.

Sikri said: ‘We are thinking of special bridge courses for the widows, like vocational courses, which will empower them to earn a decent living for themselves, especially for those in the age group of 18-35.’

‘Convergence of welfare schemes to benefit the widows is also important. For instance, the women and child development ministry has recently introduced a scheme for the health welfare of adolescent girls and women and that can be extended to widows,’ he added.

Rights panel orders compensation for delayed pension

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to pay Rs.50,000 as compensation to the kin of a government employee who died after waiting more than 10 years for her pension, a statement said Tuesday.

Champa Devi, who retired as a health inspector from a primary health centre in Uttar Pradesh in 1992, ran from pillar to post for more than 10 years to get her pension.

‘Ironically, the order for payment of her pension was passed by the directorate of pensions Feb 11, 2004, eleven years after her retirement and a month after her death Jan 7, 2004,’ the NHRC statement said.

After constant reminders by the commission, the directorate informed that the pension was paid to the Champa Devi’s two sons Oct 26, 2004, and claimed that the delay was caused by the health department.

Holding it to be a ‘clear case of human rights violations’, the commission said: ‘Whoever was responsible for the delay, the fact still remains that the poor pensioner could not get her pension during her lifetime and the state government cannot escape its liability to compensate her next of kin.’

‘Pension to a retired government servant is a means to allow him/her to live with some dignity which is a part of human rights,’ the statement said.

The NHRC has sought a compliance report along with proof of payment within six weeks from the date of the receipt of its recommendation from the state government.

Rathore’s pension stopped, Ruchika’s family hails move

Disgraced former Haryana police chief S.P.S. Rathore, in jail for molesting teenager Ruchika Girhotra in 1990, will get no pension from the government, the home ministry said Wednesday.

“Pension of S.P.S. Rathore, a retired IPS officer of the 1965 batch, has been withheld in full on permanent basis,” a home ministry statement said.

The action was taken following his “conviction in the molestation case of Ruchika, a minor girl”, it added.

In Chandigarh, Ruchika’s family hailed the central government’s decision.

“This is the right decision by the government. We cannot have a situation where a criminal, who has been convicted and is in jail, continues to enjoy pension also,” Ruchika’s father S.C. Girhotra said.

The ministry had earlier sent a notice to Rathore asking him why his pension should not be stopped after the 68-year-old retired police officer, who has so far spent over a month in the high security Burail jail, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in the molestation case.

Rathore was convicted of molesting 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra, a classmate of his daughter, 20 years ago.

Ruchika, a budding tennis player, committed suicide three years after being molested. A Chandigarh court May 25 enhanced Rathore’s jail term from six months to one-and-a-half years.