KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Wednesday ordered the EPFO to allow employees to contribute towards higher pension without insisting on proof of having chosen for the same earlier, as specified in the scheme.
Justice Ziyad Rahman AA directed in the interim order (WP-C No. 8979/23 and others) that the EPFO and the authorities under it should, for the time being, make adequate provisions in their online facility to enable the employees or pensioners to furnish options in tune with the directions of the Supreme Court, without producing copies of the option selected under para 26(6) of the Employees Provident Fund Scheme, 1952.
The court further directed that feasible alternative arrangements, including permission to submit hard copies of the options, should be made or granted if appropriate modifications cannot be made in the online facility. Necessary arrangements should be made within 10 days, the court added.
A batch of petitions filed by employees who had paid higher contributions but had not formally chosen or were not asked to choose a higher-payment option is being considered by the court. The court had earlier admitted the petitions.
In Wednesday’s order, the court said the petitioners have established a prima facie case, warranting an interim order. The balance of convenience also favours the petitioners, the court noted. There cannot be any dispute that if they are not permitted to submit their options before the cut-off date (May 3), they would be deprived of their opportunity to claim the benefits of the Supreme Court’s judgment forever, the court said.
The court also pointed out that higher contributions were being accepted by the EPFO even without submitting options. It is also evident that in some cases, instructions were issued from some of the office of the EPFO to accept higher contributions, and in some cases, accounts of respective employees were also updated in tune with the higher payments, the court said.
Meanwhile, another bench of the high court ordered for extending to 50 new petitioners the benefit of its earlier interim order not to reduce or stop the provident fund pensions of those who have approached the court.
The HC had issued an interim order on March 1 asking the EPFO not to curtail, limit, or stop the pension that was being received by the petitioners before the court until further orders.
Considering a new petition (WP-C No. 13491/23) filed by 50 former employees of Kerala State Beverages Corporation Ltd, Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan V ordered on Wednesday that the benefit of the court’s interim order of March 1 should be extended to the new petitioners as well.
In Wednesday’s order, the court pointed out that it had considered identical issues (WP-C No. 4958/23 and others) and had issued the interim order of March 1. This was after considering the petitions alleging that the EPFO is discontinuing or curtailing or reducing the pension being received by the petitioners without hearing them and by misconstruing the Supreme Court’s judgment (EPF Organisation and Another vs Sunil Kumar B and Others, 2022).