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Judicial Interpretation Cannot Fill Lacuna Left By Legislature -SC

UNION OF INDIA & ORS V. V.R. NANUKUTTAN NAIR Civil Appeal Nos. 4714-4715 of 2012 – 7 November, 2019.

The bench comprising of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta at the Supreme Court of India, in an appeal against the orders passed by the Armed Forces Tribunal on the interpretation of a regulation in Navy (Pension) Regulations, 1964. This held that “if there is a lacuna left by the legislature, it is not open to the court to fill it on some presumed intention of the legislature.”

The respondent was discharged on June 30, 1978, after completion of 10 years and 169 days of service. He was in the low medical category since 1970. He was granted disability pension at the rate of 50 pc on account of suffering from Viral Myocarditis post-discharge, but the applicant was denied the benefit of the service element of disability pension. It is the denial of this service element that led the applicant to invoke the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.

Whether the applicant was entitled to service element of disability pension corresponding to the number of years he has put in the service of Navy?

In the present case, where the individual had completed his period of engagement in the low medical category but not the qualifying service for pension terms of Regulation 78 of the Regulations.

The disability pension has two elements: the disability element and the service element. Service pension and service elements are synonymous. The expression service element is used in the case of payment of disability pension, whereas, service pension is used for the pension payable on account of services rendered.

The Court found this argument without merit that as per clause (1) of Regulation 105B, the service element is admissible only if these conditions are satisfied:

  1. That discharge was on account of disability attributable to or aggravated by Naval Service; and

  2. (ii) The individual is entitled to service pension only on completion of 15 years of service in terms of Regulation 78.

As per Regulations like Regulation 101A, an individual who is placed in lower medical category is discharged because of there is no alternative employment suitable to his category and an individual who at the time of his release under the Release Regulations is in a lower medical category than that in which he was recruited will be treated as invalid from service in terms of Clause 2 of Appendix V of the Regulations. Therefore, such individuals are entitled to a disability pension.

The purpose of Regulation 105B is to exclude dual payment of the service element disability pension when an individual is entitled to service pension as well. It is to avoid the payment of service element twice over, the Regulation 105B has not used the expression ‘on completion of qualifying service’.Given the principles of interpretation relating to Casus Omissus, the Court found that a reading of the Regulations does not lead to an inference that the service element should be limited to an individual who had completed a minimum of 15 years of engagement. Regulation 78 cannot be read into Regulation 105B when no such qualification was provided in Regulation 105B.

The Supreme court by referring to Nalinakhya Bysack v. Shyam Sunder Halda, the bench observed:

By judicial interpretation, words cannot be added to a statute, which would include the Rules, Regulations, and Instructions issued under a Statute, as an excuse to give effect to its plain meaning of the language of the regulations. If the legislature has left a lacuna, it is not open to the Court to fill it on some presumed intention of the legislature. But where the Courts find that the words appear to have been accidentally omitted, or if adopting a construction deprives certain existing words of all meaning, it is permissible to supply additional words but should not easily read words which have not been expressly enacted. The Court should construct the provisions harmoniously having regard to the context and the object of the statute in which a provision appears, to make it meaningful. An attempt must always be made so to reconcile the relevant provisions, to advance the remedy intended by the statute. Thus, it is not possible to read the completion of qualifying service in Regulation 105B of the Regulations.

And the interpretation as argued appellants leads to the addition of words in Regulation 105B which is not permissible as the Regulations have to be interpreted harmoniously and not by adding words to the Regulations. A person who has completed the period of engagement is entitled to disability element apart from the service pension. The expression ‘service pension’ admissible is not restricted to the qualifying service provided under Regulation 78. It is not for the Courts to remedy the defect in the Statute.

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and ordered the appellants to pay the arrears of the service element to the respondent preferably within four months in terms of directions of the Tribunal.

Deeksha Nagaraj

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