A.K. Bishnoi, Member (A).
1. The applicant was appointed as Junior Telecom Officer in Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), respondent no. 2 herein, on 21.02.1994 and then was subsequently posted up to the rank of Assistant Division Manager. In the year 2019, BSNL introduced “BSNL Voluntary Retirement Scheme-2019” and the effective date of voluntary retirement under the Scheme was 31.1.2020. This Scheme was open from 04.11.2019 to 03.12.2019 upto 5:30 p.m., during which the employees were permitted to give their options to opt for VRS. The applicant submits that he had earlier exercised the option of seeking VRS but due to some technical reasons, at 5:29 p.m. on 03.12.2019, he pressed the key through which the option of withdrawal got activated. He, thereafter, approached the concerned authorities with hard copies seeking the option, for VRS. The respondents, however, did not accept them and treated the matter as if the applicant has not opted for taking VRS. The applicant has consequently approached this Tribunal seeking quashing of the orders dated 24.12.2019 and 27.12.2019 (Annexure A-1) and for directing the respondents to consider and accept his request for VRS.
2. No counter reply has been filed in this matter.
3. Ms. Neela Gokhale, learned counsel appeared on behalf of the applicant, Sh. Subhash Gosain, learned counsel for R. No. 1, Sh. R.V. Sinha, learned counsel for R. Nos. 2 and 3 and Sh. Sameer Agrawal, learned counsel for R. Nos. 4 and 5.
4. It was argued that it was through an inadvertent error that the applicant withdrew his offer for VRS and it was further contended that immediately thereafter, the applicant submitted the hard copies of his option for taking VRS. He submitted representations to the concerned authorities. Attention was drawn to Para 7 (iii) of the Scheme as per which, the withdrawal of option was to be submitted online along with signed copy in writing. It was mentioned that the applicant did not submit any signed copy in writing seeking withdrawal of his option and hence, his case should not be treated as if he had withdrawn his option for VRS.
5. Sh. R.V. Sinha, learned counsel arguing on behalf of the respondents argued that the Scheme clearly stipulates that the option once exercised shall be final and the employees can only withdraw their option only once before the closing time and date of the option. It was contended that since the applicant had in the online mode withdrawn his option, it stood annulled and not filing signed copy subsequently shall have no effect in the matter. The judgment of this Tribunal in OA No. 210/2020 and batch dated 27.01.2020 was also referred to where a case on almost similar lines was decided by this Tribunal. It was held that under this Scheme, the applicants did not have any right to change their option after the closing date of the Scheme.
6. For the sake of clarity, the following paragraphs of the Scheme are extracted below:
“4. OPERATION OF THE SCHEME
The effective date of Voluntary Retirement under this scheme shall be 31-01-2020. The Scheme shall come into force from the date of issue of notification inviting option for voluntary retirement under the scheme and shall remain in operation as per the dates mentioned below:
(a) Date of start of option: 04-11-2019
(b) Date of closing of option: 03-12-2019 up to 05:30 PM.
XXX XXX XXX
(i) Eligible employee(s) shall be required to submit option to voluntarily retire from service under the Scheme during the period prescribed and as per the provisions of the scheme.
(ii) The VRS option of employee(s) facing Departmental/Judicial proceedings shall be accepted and Earned Leave encashment, Transfer grant, GPF/CPF and pension will be released provisionally as per Rules 69 of CCS Pension Rules 1972.
Provided that the payment of Ex-gratia and Gratuity, shall be released only on the conclusion of and based on the outcome of vigilance/disciplinary proceedings.
(iii) The option once exercised under this Scheme shall be final and decision of the competent authority shall be binding on the concerned employee(s).
Provided that the employee(s) will be allowed to withdraw the option only once at any time till the closing time and date of option.
Provided further that the request for withdrawal of option shall be submitted online along with signed copy in writing.
(iv) The authority for acceptance of option under this scheme shall be the competent authority as defined in clause 3 (c).”
7. The step by step guide given as Annexure II to the Scheme is also annexed. It is extracted below:
1. The eligible employee is required to login to the ERP/ESSportal
(http://sp05rpx1.erp.bsnl.co.in/iri/portal) for exercising his option for seeking voluntary retirement under the ‘BSNL Voluntary Retirement Scheme-2019’.
2. On the homepage of ESS a after successful login, a Tab named “VRS-2019”will be displayed. On entering the VRS-2019 page, only the eligible employees will be able to see the indicative calculation of the benefits of the scheme. The shown calculation is an approximate estimate of the benefits as per the staff details available in the ERP system. Actual benefits may vary subject to verification of service particulars from service book etc.
3. The interested employee may then continue to exercise his option as per the instructions on the ERP portal. Employees are advised to carefully go through the provisions of the ‘BSNL Voluntary Retirement Scheme 2019’before exercising their option. For any assistance, employees can contact the dedicated HelpDesk.
4. Help-Desk: Dedicated Help-desk(s) will be available at Corporate Office level, Circle level and BA/SSA level during the normal office hours for providing assistance to the employees for exercising options. Online options, however, can be exercised round the clock.
5. The Online window for exercising option will remain open till the specified closing date/time i.e. 03.12.2019 up to 05:30 P.M. If the employee is not sure, he may click the button “I wish to DECIDE LATER” and exit from the ESS Portal.
6. The eligible employees shall fill the option form through ESS portal and take three printouts, sign all of them in blue ink and submit the signed copies to their respective controlling officer within 3 days of submitting the online option. One copy will have to be pasted in Service Book, second copy will be sent to the competent authority for acceptance of VRS and on third copy, the employee will take acknowledgement.
7. The employees who are on deputation to other Departments/organizations may exercise their options online within the prescribed time and submit the signed forms to their last place of posting before relieving for deputation. In case of acceptance of their option, they may repatriate back and join BSNL latest by 31.12.2019.
8. The Employee can check the tentative benefits under the Scheme at any time on the ERP/ESS portal and once the option is submitted, he may also check the status of his option for VRS on the ERP/ESS portal.
9. Employees are allowed to withdraw option only once during the prescribed period for exercising option.”
8. The simple issue involved in the present case is, whether the applicant having once withdrawn his option of VRS can exercise that option after the closing date and time of the Scheme. The Scheme closed at 5:30 p.m. on 03.12.2019 and it is an admitted fact that the applicant had withdrawn his option before the closing time and date. Para 7 (iii) clearly provides that the employees will be allowed to withdraw the option only once at any time till the closing time and date of option. Para 5 of the step by step guide also mentions that the exercise regarding options can only be undertaken till the specified closing date/time at 03.12.2019, 5:30 p.m.
9. This is a Scheme specific to a particular period and on the basis of the options received by the respondents, they have to decide on what further steps to take. It cannot be left open ended because the operationalisation of the Scheme depends upon the information which is available with the respondents regarding the status of options exercised by the employees. The contention of the applicant that it was due to a technical error that he withdrew his option, does not make any difference in the adjudication of the present matter, since it is not relevant to go into the causes of his act. The fact remains that by the closing time and date for exercising the options, the name of the applicant did not figure in the list of employees who had exercised the option of the VRS.
10. The argument that the Scheme itself provides for submitting signed copy in writing does not hold water. Onc
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e the name of the applicant has been deleted in the database from the list of candidates who have exercised the option for VRS, further actions which are only of supplementary nature can make no difference. 11. The applicant has also given a copy of the response obtained through a clarification under the RTI Act in which part of the noting mentions that signed hard copy submitted by the applicant will be treated as final option. We do not know how this matter has been dealt with internally in the respondent organization and at which level, a particular opinion was given. The real document in this case is the Scheme itself. Anything else we need not go into. 12. From the above discussion, we are of the considered view that no fault can be found with the Scheme as also its implementation and that the action of the respondents in not accepting the request of the applicant for VRS cannot be interfered with. In view of the above, the OA is dismissed. No order as to costs.