Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, hearing the One Rank One Pension (OROP) case today, lashed out at the practice of using sealed cover envelopes for submissions to courts. He refused to accept a sealed cover envelope submitted by the Attorney General of India stating the decision of the Defence Ministry on the payment of pensions, asking the government's top lawyer to read it or take it back.
"We will not take any confidential documents or sealed covers, and am personally averse to this. There has to be transparency in court. This is about implementing the orders. What can be the secrecy here?" he said, adding that he wanted to put an end to "the sealed cover business".
"If the Supreme Court follows it, High Courts will also follow", he told the Attorney General.
The Chief Justice further called sealed covers 'completely against' settled judicial principles.
"It can be resorted to only when it is about a source or endangering someone's life", DY Chandrachud said.
On the case, he said the court sees the government's difficulties on payment of OROP arrears to ex-service personnel, but needs to know the plan of action.
The Attorney General then read the report.
"Budget outlay is not able to meet this huge outflow at one go. Resource is limited and expense needs to be regulated. The finance ministry was taken into confidence, and it has said it is unable to meet this outflow at one go," he said.
A bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala is currently hearing the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement's (IESM) plea over payment of OROP dues.
The top court, on March 13, came down heavily on the government for "unilaterally" deciding to pay OROP dues in four instalments.
The defence ministry has recently filed an affidavit and a compliance note in the top court, giving the time schedule for payment of the arrears of Rs 28,000 crore to ex-servicemen for years 2019-22.
The Supreme Court allowed time to the Union government to make staggered payments of OROP arrears to ex-servicemen by February 28, 2024, as the Centre said it faced a huge outgo of Rs 28,000 crore, and payment of it at one go could have serious implications for defence management.
The court ordered that OROP arrears since 2019 would be payable to those earning family pension and gallantry award winners (total 6 lakh persons) by March 30, to more than 70 yr-old ex-servicemen (around 4 lakh) by June 30, and rest (10-11 lakhs) in on August 31, November 30 and February 28.
CJI DY Chandrachud-led bench said though it was upset with unilateral letter by defence ministry for payment of OROP arrears in instalments in breach of the Supreme Court judgment to pay by March 15, on perusing the difficulties, it feels the national interest must not be lost sight of.