The case of ‘D.S. Nakara v. Union of India (1982)’, is a landmark case on right to equality in India. The case arose when government issued a notification laying down different dates of superannuation for pensions to civil servants and defense personnel.

Facts of the Case

  • Petitioners 1 and 2 were retired pensioners of the Central Government, the first being a civil servant and the second being a member of the service personnel of the Armed Forces. The third petitioner was a society, formed to ventilate the legitimate public problems and consistent with its objective it is espousing the cause of the pensioners all over the country.
  • On May 25, 1979, Ministry of Finance, issued Office Memorandum whereby the formula for computation of pension was liberalised but made it applicable to Government servants who were in service on March 31, 1979 and retire from service on or after that date. This liberalised pension formula was applicable to employees governed by the 1972 Rules retiring on or after the specified date.
  • The pension for the service personnel which will include Army, Navy and Air Force staff was governed by the relevant regulations. By the Memorandum of the Ministry of Defence September 28, 1979, the liberalised pension formula introduced for the government servants governed by the 1972 rules was extended to the Armed Forces personnel subject to limitations set out in the memorandum with a condition that the new rules of pension would be effective from April 1, 1979, and may be applicable to all service officers who become/became non-effective on or after that date.
  • The liberalised pension formula shall be applicable prospectively to those who retired on or after March 31, 1979 in case of government servants covered by 1972 Rules and in respect of defence personnel those who became/become non-effective on or after April 1, 1979.
  • Consequently those who retired prior to the specified date would not be entitled to the benefits of the liberalised pension formula.

Contentions of Counsels

  • Petitioners contended that the Court may consider the raison d’etre for payment of pension. If the Pension is paid for past satisfactory service rendered, and to avoid destitution in old age as well as a social welfare or socio-economic justice measure, the differential treatment for those retiring prior to a certain date and those retiring subsequently, the choice of the date being wholly arbitrary, would be according differential treatment to pensioners who form a class irrespective of the date of retirement and, therefore, would be violative of Art. 14.
  • Pensioners of the Central Government form a class for purpose of pensionary benefits and there could not be mini-classification within the class designated as pensioners.
  • If date of retirement can be accepted as a valid criterion for classification, on retirement each individual government servant would form a class by himself because the date of retirement of each is correlated to his birth date and on attaining a certain age he had to retire. It is only after the recommendations of the Third Central Pay Commission were accepted by the Government of India that the retirement dates have been specified to be in number being last day of each month in which the birth date of the individual government servant happens to fall.
  • In other words, all government servants who retire correlated to birth date on attaining the age of superannuation in a given month shall not retire on that date but shall retire on the last day of the month. Now, if date of retirement is a valid criterion for classification, those who retire at the end of every month shall form a class by themselves. This is too microscopic a classification to be upheld for any valid purpose. Is it permissible or is it violative of Art. 14?


After hearing the contentions of both parties, the Court analysed the case as follows-

  • Though Art. 14 forbids class legislation, it does not forbid reasonable classification for the purpose of legislation. In order, however, to pass the test of permissible classification, two conditions must be fulfilled, viz.,

(i) that the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from those that are left out of the group; and

(ii) that differentia must have a rational relation to the objects sought to be achieved by the statute in question.

It is equally well settled by the decisions of this Court that Art. 14 condemns discrimination not only by a substantive law but also by a law of procedure.

  • After an exhaustive review of almost all decisions bearing on the question of Art. 14, this Court speaking through Chandrachud, C.J. in Re. Special Courts Bill (1978) restated the settled propositions which emerged from the judgments of this Court undoubtedly insofar as they were relevant to the decision on the points arising for consideration in that matter.

“4. The principle underlying the guarantee of Article 14 is not that the same rules of law should be applicable to all persons within the Indian territory or that the same remedies should be made available to them irrespective of differences of circumstances. It only means that all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike both in privileges conferred and liabilities imposed.

Equal laws would have to be applied to all in the same situation, and there should be no discrimination between one person and another if as regards the subject matter of the legislation their position is substantially the same.”

  • The thrust of Art. 14 is that the citizen is entitled to equality before law and equal protection of laws. In the very nature of things the society being composed of unequals a welfare state will have to strive by both executive and legislative action to help the less fortunate in the society to ameliorate their condition so that the social and economic inequality in the society may be bridged.

This would necessitate a legislation applicable to a group of citizens otherwise unequal and amelioration of whose lot is the object of state affirmative action. In the absence of doctrine of classification such legislation is likely to flounder on the bed rock of equality enshrined in Art. 14.

  • The court realistically appraising the social stratification and economic inequality and keeping in view the guidelines on which the State action must move as constitutionally laid down in part IV of the Constitution, evolved the doctrine of classification. The doctrine was evolved to sustain a legislation or State action designed to help weaker sections of the society or some such segments of the society in need of succor.
  • Legislative and executive action may accordingly be sustained if it satisfies the twin tests of reasonable classification and the rational principle correlated to the object sought to be achieved. The State, therefore, would have to affirmatively satisfy the Court that the twin tests have been satisfied. It can only be satisfied if the State establishes not only the rational principle on which classification is founded but correlate it to the objects sought to be achieved.
  • The basic contention as hereinbefore noticed is that the pensioners for the purpose of receiving pension form a class and there is no criterion on which classification of pensioners retiring prior to specified date and retiring subsequent to that date can provide a rational principle correlated to object, viz., object underlying payment of pensions.
  • This Court observed that where all relevant considerations are the same, persons holding identical posts may not be treated differently in the matter of their pay merely because they belong to different departments. If that can’t be done when they are in service, can that be done during their retirement? Expanding this principle, one can confidently say that if pensioners form a class, their computation cannot be by different formula affording unequal treatment solely on the ground that some retired earlier and some retired later.
  • Art. 39 (e) requires the State to secure that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and children of tender age are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.

Art. 41 obligates the State within the limits of its economic capacity and development, to make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to provide assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.

Art. 43 (3) requires the State to endeavour to secure amongst other things full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities.

Recall at this stage the Preamble, the flood light illuminating the path to be pursued by the State to set up a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic.

  • Having set out clearly the society which we propose to set up, the direction in which the State action must move, the welfare State which we propose to build up, the constitutional goal of setting up socialist State and the assurance in the Directive Principles of State Policy especially of security in old age at least to those who have rendered useful service during their active years, it is indisputable, nor was it questioned, that pension as a retirement benefit is in consonance with and furtherance of the goals of the Constitution.

The goals for which pension is paid themselves give a fillip and push to the policy of setting up a welfare State because by pension the socialist goal of security of cradle to grave is assured at least when it is mostly needed and least available, namely, in the fall of life.

  • Indisputably, viewed from any angle pensioners for payment of pension form a class. Unquestionably pension is linked to length of service and the last pay drawn but the last pay does not imply the pay on the last day of retirement but average emoluments as defined in the scheme.
  • Earlier the scheme was not that liberal keeping in view the definition of average emoluments and the absence of slab system and a lower ceiling. Those who rendered the same service earned less pension and are exposed to the vagary of rising prices consequent upon the inflationary inputs. If therefore, those who are to retire subsequent to the specified date would feel the pangs in their old age, of lack of adequate security, by what stretch of imagination the same can be denied to those who retired earlier with lower emoluments and yet are exposed to the vagaries of the rising prices and the falling purchasing power of the rupee.

And the greater misfortune is that they are becoming older and older compared to those who would be retiring subsequent to the specified date. The Government was perfectly justified in liberalising the pension scheme. In fact it was overdue. But we find no justification for arbitrarily selecting the criteria for eligibility for the benefits of the scheme dividing the pensioners all of whom would be retirees but falling on one or the other side of the specified date.

  • If the State considered it necessary to liberalise the pension scheme, we find no rational principle behind it for granting these benefits only to those who retired subsequent to that date simultaneously denying the same to those who retired prior to that date.
  • Therefore, this division which classified pensioners into two classes is not based on any rational principle and if the rational principle is the one of dividing pensioners with a view to giving something more to persons otherwise equally placed, it would be discriminatory.
  • To illustrate, take two persons, one retired just a day prior and another a day just succeeding the specified date. Both were in the same pay bracket, the average emolument was the same and both had put in equal number of years of service. How does a fortuitous circumstance of retiring a day earlier or a day later will permit totally unequal treatment in the matter of pension?

One retiring a day earlier will have to be subject to ceiling of Rs. 8,100 p a. and average emolument to be worked out on 36 months’ salary while the other will have a ceiling of Rs. 12,000 p.a. and average emolument will be computed on the basis of last ten months average.

  • The artificial division stares into face and is unrelated to any principle and whatever principle, if there be any, has absolutely no nexus to the objects sought to be achieved by liberalising the pension scheme. In fact this arbitrary division has not only no nexus to the liberalised pension scheme but it is counterproductive and runs counter to the whole gamut of pension scheme.

The equal treatment guaranteed in Art. 14 is wholly violated inasmuch as the pension rules being statutory in character, since the specified date, the rules accord differential and discriminatory treatment to equals in the matter of commutation of pension. A 48 hours difference in matter of retirement would have a traumatic effect. Division is thus both arbitrary and unprincipled.

Therefore the classification does not stand the test of Art. 14. Further the classification is wholly arbitrary because we do not find a single acceptable or persuasive reason for this division. This arbitrary action violated the guarantee of Art. 14.


D.S. Nakara & othr. & Union of India (1982)