‘Voluntary Retirement’ Can Be Sought Only If Officer Meets Eligibility Criteria; Resignation Can Be Anytime : Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has observed that while a person can resign at any time during his service, he can ask for voluntary retirement only if he meets the eligibility criteria.

“A person can resign at any time during his service, however, an officer cannot ask for premature/voluntary retirement unless he fulfils the eligibility criteria”, a bench comprising Justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna observed in the judgment in the case Union of India and another v. Abhiram Verma.

The case related to eligibility of an officer in the Indian Army(Armed Medical Corps), who had resigned after nearly 8 years of service, for pensionary benefits. The Armed Forces Tribunal had held him entitled to pensionary benefits, and this was approved by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court as well. Challenging these verdicts, the Union of India approached the Supreme Court.

According to the AFT and the High Court, what the officer had submitted was not “resignation” but an application for “voluntary retirement”. It was held that the officer was entitled to terminal/pensionary benefits taking qualifying service as 15 years as a “late entrant” under Regulation 15 of the Pension Regulations.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the findings of both the AFT and the High Court. The Court noted that the the qualifying service for the purpose of “voluntary retirement” is minimum 10 years’ service, which the officer did not have. Also, in his previous correspondences, he had mentioned that he was submitting resignation for lack of promotional opportunities.

Even, there is a distinction between the “resignation” and “voluntary retirement”. A person can resign at any time during his service, however, an officer cannot ask for premature/voluntaryretirement unless he fulfils the eligibility criteria.

The judgment referred to the precedents Senior Divisional Manager, LIC v Shree Lal Meena(2019) and BSES Yamuna Power Ltd. vs.Ghanshyam Chand Sharma(2020) which had discussed the differences between “resignation” and “voluntary retirement”.

“When the legislature, in its wisdom, brings forth certain beneficial provisions in the form of Pension Regulations from a particular date and on particular terms and conditions, aspects which are excluded cannot be included in it by implication. Therefore, having tendered the “resignation”, the respondent has to suffer the consequences and now cannot be permitted to take ‘U’ turn and say that what the respondent wanted was “premature retirement” and not “resignation””, the judgment authored by Justice Shah observed.

The Court also noted that the minimum qualifying service for pension as per the Pension Regulations is 20 years.

Also, the Court held that the officer cannot be treated as a “late entrant” in terms of Regulation 15.

As per Regulation 15, a “late entrant” is an officer who is retired on reaching the prescribed age limit for compulsory retirement with at least 15 years commissioned service (actual). As the respondent did not retire on reaching the prescribed age limit for compulsory retirement, the respondent cannot be said to be a “late entrant”.

Allowing the appeal of the Union, the Court set aside the judgments of the AFT and the HC.

Case Details

Case Title : Union of India versus Abhiram Verma

Citation : LL 2021 SC 531

Appearances : Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan for the Union; Senior Advocate Vikas Singh for the respondent.

Click here to read/download the judgment

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