SC dismisses PIL against pension, benefits to ex-parliamentarians

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the provision for pension and other allowances to former parliamentarians and their spouses as it dismissed a plea by NGO Lok Prahari challenging the grant to former lawmakers.

“The plea is dismissed,” said a bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul pointing out that the authority of Parliament is wide enough to cover the provision of the Salaries, Allowances, and Pension of Members of Parliament 1954 providing for pension and other allowances to former parliamentarians and their spouses, including unlimited free travel.

The terms and conditions, including grant of pension and other benefits, of a constitutional office to which a person is appointed or elected is a matter of policy choice and the “appropriate legislature would be the constitutionally designated authority to determine” the same, the judgment said.

Pointing out that there is no provision in the Constitution for pension and other benefits for the President, Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament or state legislature, Union and state Ministers but the same are provided by law, it rejected the NGO’s submission that the silence in Constitution’s Article 106, dealing with salaries and allowances of MPs, operates as a prohibition for pensions to former MPs.

The judgment quoted the Constitution’s principal architect B.R. Ambedkar and Constituent Assembly member K.T. Shah who had during a constituent assembly debate favoured pension for the people holding high constitutional office including lawmakers.

It said Ambedkar called the idea “laudable” and cited the British Parliament which has the same provision while Shah had described pension as a deferred wage which a worker did not get while at work, saying that the “analogy will hold here also”.

Speaking for the bench, Justice Chelameswar observed: “The fact that there are express references to the payment of pensions in the Constitution for certain Constitutional functionaries and not for others, in our opinion does not lead to the conclusion that the Constitution by its silence prohibits the payment of pension to those constitutional functionaries.”

“The framers of the Constitution believed that certain offices required a higher degree of protection, having regard to the greater degree of independence expected of the holders of their offices. The framers knew history and the attempts of the men in power to subjugate the holders of such office.

“Safeguards, therefore, were provided in respect of the various aspects of the tenure and other conditions of service relevant for their offices,” the court said pointing out: “When it comes to MPs, however, such a higher degree of constitutional protection is not obviously required as the authority to make laws rests only with them.”

“We are of the opinion that, on a true and proper construction of the text of those provisions, they do not mandate the payment of pension. They only protect the pension if payable under the relevant law applicable on the date of appointment of a person to any one of those offices by declaring that such a condition could not be altered to the detriment of a person subsequent to his appointment,” the judgment said.

Lok Prahari had challenged the constitutional validity of various amendments by which former parliamentarians were given pensions including family pension benefits and allowances that extended to their associates as well.

The NGO, which had also challenged the rejection of its plea by the Allahabad High Court, contended that the pension and other benefits extended to former lawmakers were violative of the Constitution’s Article 14 as being discriminatory.