“When you gave your best in the hey-day of life to your employer, in days of invalidity, economic security by way of periodical payment is assured.”

The antiquated notion of pension being a bounty a gratituous payment depending upon the sweet will or grace of the employer not claimable as a right and, therefore, no right to pension can be enforced through Court has been swept under the carpet by the decision of the Constitution Bench in Deoki Nandan Prasad v. State of Bihar & Ors. (1971) wherein Supreme Court authoritatively ruled that pension is a right and the payment of it does not depend upon the discretion of the Government but is governed by the rules and a Government servant coming within those rules is entitled to claim pension.

It was further held that the grant of pension does not depend upon any one’s discretion. It is only for the purpose of quantifying the amount having regard to service and other allied matters that it may be necessary for the authority to pass an order to that effect but the right to receive pension flows to the officer not because of any such order but by virtue of the rules. This view was reaffirmed in State of Punjab & Anr. v. Iqbal Singh (1991).


Probably the alien rulers who recruited employees in lower echelons of service from the colony and exported higher level employees from the seat of Empire, wanted to ensure in the case of former continued loyalty till death to the alien rulers and in the case of latter, an assured decent living standard in old age ensuring economic security at the cost of the colony.

In the course of transformation of society from feudal to welfare and as socialistic thinking acquired respectability, State obligation to provide security in old age, an escape from undeserved want was recognised and as a first step pension was treated not only as a reward for past service but with a view to helping the employee to avoid destitution in old age. The quid pro quo, was that when the employee was physically and mentally alert he rendered unto master the best, expecting him to look after him in the fall of life.

A retirement system therefore exists solely for the purpose of providing benefits. In most of the plans of retirement benefits, everyone who qualifies for normal retirement receives the same amount.

Superannuation pension

Superannuation pension, a brief history of its initial introduction in early stages and continued existence till today may be illuminating. Superannuation is the most descriptive word of all but has become obsolescent because it seems ponderous. Its genesis can be traced to the first Act of Parliament (in U.K.) to be concerned with the provision of pensions generally in public offices. It was passed in 1810.

The Act which substantively devoted itself exclusively to the problem of superannuation pension was superannuation Act of 1834. These are landmarks in pension history because they attempted for the first time to establish a comprehensive and uniform scheme for all whom we may now call civil servants. Even before the 19th century, the problem of providing for public servants who are unable, through old age or incapacity, to continue working, has been recognised, but methods of dealing with the problem varied from society to society and even occasionally from department to department.

A political society which has a goal of setting up of a welfare State, would introduce and has in fact introduced as a welfare measure wherein the retiral benefit is grounded on ‘considerations of State obligation to its citizens who having rendered service during the useful span of life must not be left to penury in their old age, but the evolving concept of social security is a later day development’. And this journey was over a rough terrain.

To note only one stage in 1856 a Royal Commission was set up to consider whether any changes were necessary in the system established by the 1834 Act. The Report of the Commission is known as “Northcote-Trevelyan Report”. The Report was pungent in its criticism when it says that:

“in civil services comparable to lightness of work and the certainty of provision in case of retirement owing to bodily incapacity, furnish strong inducements to the parents and friends of sickly youths to endeavour to obtain for them employment in the service of the Government, and the extent to which the public are consequently burdened; first with the salaries of officers who are obliged to absent themselves from their duties on account of ill health, and afterwards with their pensions when they retire on the same plea, would hardly be credited by those who have not had opportunities of observing the operation of the system” (see Gerald Rhodes, Public Sector Pensions, pp. 18-19).

This approach is utterly unfair because in modern times public services are manned by those who enter at a comparatively very young age, with selection through national competitive examination and ordinarily the best talent gets the opportunity.

Objects of the Pension

Let us therefore examine what are the goals that pension scheme seeks to subserve? A pension scheme consistent with available resources must provide that the pensioner would be able to live:

(i) free from want, with decency, independence and self-respect, and

(ii) at a standard equivalent at the pre-retirement level.

This approach may merit the criticism that if a developing country like India cannot provide an employee while rendering service a living wage, how can one be assured of it in retirement? This can be aptly illustrated by a small illustration. A man with a broken arm asked his doctor whether he will be able to play the piano after the cast is removed. When assured that he will, the patient replied, ‘that is funny, I could not before’.

It appears that determining the minimum amount required for living decently is difficult, selecting the percentage representing the proper ratio between earnings and the retirement income is harder. But it is imperative to note that as self-sufficiency declines the need for his attendance or institutional care grows. Many are literally surviving now than in the past. We owe it to them and ourselves that they live, not merely exist.

The philosophy prevailing in a given society at various stages of its development profoundly influences its social objectives. These objectives are in turn a determinant of a social policy. The law is one of the chief instruments whereby the social policies are implemented and ‘pension is paid according to rules which can be said to provide social security law by which it is meant those legal mechanisms primarily concerned to ensure the provision for the individual of a cash income adequate, when taken along with the benefits in kind provided by other social services (such as free medical aid) to ensure for him a culturally acceptable minimum standard of living when the normal means of doing so failed’. (See Social Security law by Prof. Harry Calvert, p. 1).

Pension in current scenario

Viewed in the light of the present day notions pension is a term applied to periodic money payments to a person who retires at a certain age considered age of disability; payments usually continue for the rest of the natural life of the recipient. The reasons underlying the grant of pension vary from country to country and from scheme to scheme. But broadly stated they are,

(i) as compensation to former members of the armed forces or their dependents for old age, disability, or death (usually from service causes),

(ii) as old age retirement or disability benefits for civilian employees, and

(iii) as social security payments for the aged, disabled, or deceased citizens made in accordance with the rules governing social service programmes of the country.

Pensions under the first head are of great antiquity. Under the second head they have been in force in one form or another in some countries for over a century but those coming under the third head are relatively of recent origin, though they are of the greatest magnitude. There are other views about pensions such as charity, paternalism, deferred pay, rewards for service rendered, or as a means or promoting general welfare (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 17 p.575.) But these views have become otiose.

Pension to civil employees of the Government and the defence personnel as administered in India appear to be a compensation for service rendered in the past. However, as held in Douge v. Board of Education (1937) a pension is closely akin to wages in that it consists of payment provided by an employer, is paid in consideration of past service and serves the purpose of helping the recipient meet the expenses of living. This appears to be the nearest to our approach to pension with the added qualification that it should ordinarily ensure freedom from undeserved want.

Summing-up it can be said with confidence that pension is not only compensation for loyal service rendered in the past, but pension also has a broader significance, in that it is a measure of socio-economic justice which inheres economic security in the fall of life when physical and mental prowess is ebbing corresponding to aging process and therefore, one is required to fall back on savings.

One such saving in kind is when you gave your best in the hey-day of life to your employer, in days of invalidity, economic security by way of periodical payment is assured. The term has been judicially defined as a stated allowance or stipend made in consideration of past service or a surrender of rights or emoluments to one retired from service.

Thus the pension payable to a Government employee is earned by rendering long and efficient service and therefore can be said to be a deferred portion of the compensation or for service rendered. In one sentence one can say that the most practical raison d’etre for pension is the inability to provide for oneself due to old age. One may live and avoid unemployment but not senility and penury if there is nothing to fall back upon.

The discernible purpose thus underlying pension scheme or a statute introducing the pension scheme must inform interpretative process and accordingly it should receive a liberal construction and the courts may not so interpret such statute as to render them inane (see American Jurisprudence 2d. 881).

From the discussion three things emerge:

(i) that pension is neither a bounty nor a matter of grace depending upon the sweet will of the employer and that it creates a vested right subject to 1972 rules which are statutory in character because they are enacted in exercise of powers conferred by the proviso to Art. 309 and clause (5) of Art. 148 of the Constitution;

(ii) that the pension is not an ex-gratia payment but it is a payment for the past service rendered ; and

(iii) it is a social welfare measure rendering socio-economic justice to those who in the hey-day of their life ceaselessly toiled for the employer on an assurance that in their old age they would not be left in lurch.


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