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Three judge bench to hear EPFO pleas

The Supreme Court on Tuesday referred to a three-judge bench appeals filed by Employees Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) and Union of India, challenging the judgments of various high courts which quashed the Employee’s Pension (Amendment) Scheme, 2014.

Earlier, Kerala High Court and Supreme Court had pronounced their verdicts in favour of the pensioners.

But full pension was denied as the appeal of the Ministry of Labour and Employment and EPFO’s review plea were pending.

The top court had upheld Kerala High Court’s verdict on monthly pension from the Employees’ Pension Scheme on April 1, 2019. After this, the labour ministry filed an appeal against the HC verdict despite a review petition filed by EPFO.

In Tuesday’s order, Justices UU Lalit and Ajay Rastogi said, “We have said questions that arise are whether there will be cut-off date or not for the option under (Paragraph 11 (3) of the EPF Pension scheme) and principles of RC Gupta (judgment) would apply or not. So we are referring it to three judges.”

In the RC Gupta case, decided by a two-judge bench in 2016, the Supreme Court had struck down the six-month opt-in window from 1 September 2014, for employees to continue making uncapped pension contributions.

In Tuesday’s referral order, the bench said the interim order passed in the appeals protecting EPFO and the Centre from contempt actions by the high courts over non-implementation of their judgments will continue.

If the top court upholds its decision further, the structure of EPFO may change significantly as the Supreme Court review is about the PF accounts of the EPFO subscribers.

PFO has over 2.3 million pensioners, who receive a pension of Rs 1,000 every month. Their contribution to PF is, however, less than a quarter of it.

COURT CHRONOLOGY

1.  Kerala HC, while setting aside the 2014 amendments by its 2018 judgment, had declared all employees shall be entitled to exercise the option of EPF Scheme without being restricted in doing so by the insistence on a date. It also set aside orders issued by EPFO declining to grant opportunities to employees to exercise a joint option to remit contributions to Employees Pension Scheme on the basis of the actual salaries drawn by them.

2.  In April 2019, Supreme Court dismissed the special leave petition filed by EPFO against Kerala HC’s judgment. However, in January 2021, a three-judge bench recalled the dismissal order in the review petitions filed by EPFO, and posted matters for hearing in open court.

3. On February 25, 2021, division bench of top court restrained high courts of Kerala, Delhi and Rajasthan from initiating contempt proceedings against the Central Government and EPFO over non-implementation of HC verdicts. The bench posted the matters for final hearing.

Source : The New Indian Express