The State Bank of India (SBI) used to allow its officers to avail leave travel concession (LTC) for foreign trips. This meant that the bank would reimburse the officers for some of the costs of their travel, such as airfare and hotel accommodation.
In 2014, the SBI decided to withdraw this benefit. This was because the Sixth Pay Commission had rejected a similar demand by government employees in 2008. The commission had said that LTC should not be used for foreign travel, because it is a state benefit that should be given to employees to help them travel within India.
The officers of the SBI challenged the bank’s decision to withdraw the LTC benefit in the Madras High Court. The high court ruled in favor of the officers, and ordered the SBI to reinstate the benefit.
A bench of justices Hima Kohli and Rajesh Bindal on Monday said the SBI shall place on record reasons for continuing to allow availing of LTC for foreign trips. It was hearing SBI’s challenge against a June 8 Madras high court order setting aside the bank’s 2014 notification withdrawing the facility of overseas travel under LTC. The order came on a petition of the All-India State Bank Officers Federation and All India Bank Officers’ Confederation.
The SBI appealed the high court’s decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard the case on Monday, and it is expected to give its ruling soon.
In its arguments to the Supreme Court, the SBI said that it had allowed its officers to avail LTC for foreign trips since 1982. The bank also said that it had signed an agreement with the officers’ union in 2007, which revised the eligibility terms and eligible fares under LTC.
Additional solicitor-general N Venkataraman, who appeared for the SBI, said that the officers cannot claim LTC for trips abroad as a matter of right citing the commission rejection.
The Supreme Court has asked the SBI to provide details of the number of requests it has entertained for foreign travel under LTC. The court has also said that the bank should not recover the amounts paid to employees for foreign travel after 2014.
The bench noted the commission report was released in 2008. “You slept over it for six years. Until 2014, you were flagrantly doling out state largesse to your employees for travelling abroad. Why should we not castigate you for this action?”
The officers of the SBI have said that they are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the high court’s ruling and reinstate the LTC benefit.
The case of the SBI officers is significant because it raises important questions about the nature of LTC and the role of the state in providing benefits to its employees. The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will have implications for other government employees who are seeking to avail LTC for foreign travel.
Why Foreign LTC is not allowed?
The commission in its 2008 report said the demand for allowing travel abroad at least once in the career under the scheme is not in consonance with its basic objective. The government employee cannot gain any perspective of the Indian culture by travelling abroad. Besides, the attendant cost of foreign travel would also make the expenditure under this scheme much higher.