The Delhi High Court in writ petitions filed by the nine group Officers in Grade-A in the Border Security Force (BSF) holding posts in the rank of Assistant Commandant, Deputy Commandant, and Second-in-Command held that the House Rent Allowance (HRA) shall not be confined to only Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBORs) but shall be extended to all the personnel of the Forces.

The Division Bench comprising Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Saurabh Banerjee stated –

"Applying the ratio of law settled in various decisions to these petitions, we find that respondents cannot be permitted to take discriminatory view for personnel of different forces deployed in common areas for grant of HRA. Accordingly, the Signal dated 15.03.2018 and letter 22.03.2018, rejecting petitioners' request for grant of HRA, are hereby set aside. The impugned Office Memorandum No. II-270 12/35/CF- 3396486/20 17-PF-I dated 31.07.2017 issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affair, Police-II Division (PF-I Desk) and the Signal No. P.I-1I2017 dated 08.09.2017 in respect of Seventh Pay Commission issued by the DIG (Adm) Dte. CRPF, are hereby partly set aside with direction to the respondents that the benefit of HRA shall not be confined to only PBORs but shall be extended to all the personnel of the Forces irrespective of their rank, as per their entitlement. Further, respondents are directed to take necessary steps within six weeks of this judgment, in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as Ministry of Finance, to grant benefit of HRA to the petitioners and similarly situate personnel w.e.f. passing of this judgment."

Advocate Ankur Chhibber represented the petitioners while Advocate Bhagwan Swarup Shukla represented the respondents.

In the present case, the petitioners and the other similarly situated officers were not provided with Government accommodation at the place where they were posted or the locations where the separated family accommodations were constructed. Hence, they were facing problems in keeping their families at the place of their postings, especially at the border or in difficult areas lacking education and medical facilities. They were also not paid HRA for keeping their families at different locations. However, based upon the representations of the petitioners and, similarly situated persons, the competent authority under the Seventh Pay Commission recommended that the personnel of the uniformed services can keep their families at any location and they would be paid HRA for the same. However, such recommendations were confined to the Personnel Below Officer Rank (PBOR) and denied to the Group-A officers.

Being aggrieved against such an order, the petitioners preferred a Representation praying for a grant of similar benefit as has been granted to the PBORs, which was forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for consideration. However, the same was rejected by the MHA. Therefore, the petitioners challenged the same before the High Court.

The High Court after hearing both parties noted, "We, while holding the Chair as the Judges of this Court as well as normal civilians, respect their will power to stay away from their families. Interestingly though the competent authority of Seventh Pay Commission also recognized the lack of proper compensation and need of paying HRA to these employees, we fail to understand why the Commission only thought of giving parity to the PBORs of CAPF at par with PBORs of Defence Forces; while leaving behind the proposal of extending the same benefit to the Coy Commanders (officers of the level of Assistant Commandants/ Deputy Commandants) under examination. It is a strange anomaly which is sought to be corrected in this petition."

The Court further noted that such policy decisions discriminating within the force should not be permitted to continue, especially for the officers of the force who spend their lives serving the nation.

The Court also observed, "We have gone through the decision in Supreme Court in Prem Chand (Supra) relied upon by the petitioners and find that the said case relates to benefits of flexibilities in imports given to Export Houses and though the facts of the case are distinguishable and not applicable to the present case, however, there is no dispute qua the settled position that the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 ensures equality amongst equals and its aim is to protect persons- similarly placed against discriminatory treatment. We have also gone through the decision of this Court in Govind Kumar Srivastava (Supra) relied upon by the petitioners, which pertains to grant of pro-rata pension only to the Commissioned Officers of the Defence Services and not to non-Commissioned Officers/ PBORs and this Court held that such denial of pro-rata pension to them is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. In Dev Sharma (Supra) this Court while dealing with the case of retirement age of members of the Central and Allied Forces held that element of discrimination of retirement age must be done away with."

Accordingly, the Court disposed of the petitions.

Cause Title – Praveen Yadav and Ors. v. Union of India and Ors. (Neutral Citation: 2022/DHC/005610)

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