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The Delhi High Court yesterday dismissed a petition seeking a direction to the Central Government and the Delhi Government to defreeze and release the enhanced Dearness Allowance payable to their employees and pensioners. (Hitesh Bhardwaj vs UOI)
The Court has held that there was no obligation in law upon the Central Government to disburse the increase in Dearness Allowance/ Dearness Relief within a time-bound manner.
The order was passed by a Division Bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rajnish Bhatnagar.
The Petition was preferred by one Hitesh Bhardwaj.
On April 23, the Cenral Government had issued an Office Memorandum stating that on account of the crisis arising out of COVID-19, the additional instalment of Dearness Allowance payable to Central Government employees and Dearness Relief to Central Government pensioners, due from January 1, 2020 shall not be paid.
It was added that the additional instalments of Dearness Allowance and Dearness Relief due from July 1, 2020 and January 1, 2021 shall also not be paid.
The Office Memorandum had, however, clarified that Dearness Allowance and Dearness Relief at current rates would continue to be paid.
While stating that no arrears for this period shall be paid, the Office Memorandum had assured that as and when the decision to release the future instalment of Dearness Allowance and Dearness Relief due from July 1, 2021 is taken by the Government, the rates of Dearness Allowance and Dearness Relief as effective from January 1, 2020, July 1, 2020 and January 1, 2021 would be restored prospectively.
Similar Notification was issued by the Delhi Government as well.
The Petition contended that the Central Government Employees and Central Government Pensioners had a vested right to receive the enhanced Dearness Allowance/ Dearness Relief which had come into effect from January 1, 2020.
It was added that the employees and pensioners also had vested right to continue to receive enhancement in Dearness Allowance/ Dearness Relief in future.
The Court perused Section 3 of All India Services Act,1952 on "Regulation of dearness allowance" and noted that Central Government servants were entitled to draw Dearness Allowance “at such rates, and subject to such conditions, as may be specified by the Central Government, from time to time, in respect of officers of the Central Civil Service, Class I”.
Observing that the entitlement to draw Dearness Allowance and Dearness Relief was determined by the Central Government from time to time, the Court stated,
It was further noted that the Central Government had not "frozen – and not withdrawn" the Dearness Allowance and Dearness Relief in terms of its powers under Rule 3 of the All India Services (Dearness Allowance) Rule, 1972.
The Court also rejected the Petitioner's contention that the Office Memorandum could not be sustained since it was not been issued by the competent authority under the Disaster Management Act.
"We do not find merit in this submission. The provisions of the Disaster Management Act are not the only repository of the power of the Government to take action in the light of the pandemic..Merely because the said impugned Office Memorandum makes reference to the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not follow that the only provision which the respondents could have invoked are those contained in the Disaster Management Act.", the Court explained.
The Petitioner had also argued that the Office Memorandum was in violation of Article 360(4)(a)(i) of the Constitution of India. It was submitted that since no financial emergency had been declared, the Central Government could not have frozen the Dearness Allowance and Dearness Relief.
The Court opined that this submission was completely misplaced.
In view of the above, the Court dismissed the Petition on the ground that it was meritless.
Petitioner was represented by Advocate Pradeep Sharma.
Standing Counsel Jasmeet Singh represented Centre.
Additional Standing Counsel Shobhana Takiar appeared for Delhi Government.
Read the Order: