The first matter of primary importance taken to the Supreme Court was the one relating to pensions, which attracted notice all over the country and benefited 2.5 million pensioners. In 1979 the Government of India had introduced a measure of liberalisation for its pensioners, altering the formula of calculation of pension and thereby according a substantial increase, for further relief to the pensioners, of the civil as well as defence establishments, against the developing inflationary pressures. In issuing the orders of liberalization, however, the government restricted the benefit of this measure only to those who retired after 1.4.1979. The then existing pre-1979 pensioners naturally raised objections, submitted representations, but to no avail. We took up the challenge. Through letters-to-the-editors in newspapers in the country pensioners were asked to address representations to the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, and send them to COMMON CAUSE for collective presentation to the PM. We received about 15,000 representations. We wrote to the PM and were asked to deliver these representations to a designated office. This was done, and in due course a three-lined reply was received from the government, turning down the representations, saying that government decision could not have retrospective effect and could only be given prospective effect.

We consulted some friends in the legal profession and were advised that a Writ Petition challenging the liberalisation order of the government could be filed alleging that grant of benefits only to post 1979 pensioners and depriving the pre-1979 pensioners of these, considering that all were living in the same circumstances of rising costs, was violative of the Articles 14 and 21 of the constitution. We prepared the draft of our Writ Petition. Fali Nariman, senior advocate, was kind enough to vet the draft, introduced legal phraseology and added "prayers" to it. P.H. Parikh, advocate, and his associates, dealt with the procedural matters and the senior advocate Anil Dewan handled the case in court. COMMON CAUSE had the privilege of help of these legal luminaries, for the general cause of pensioners, without having to make payment of any fees. In view of the importance of the case it was referred by the Supreme Court to its Constitution Bench of five Judges. The case had a number of hearings wherein government continued to resist our claim. The writ petition filed in 1980 was eventually decided in 1982, the court holding that pensioners form one class and that no discrimination in the matter of pensionary benefits can be caused among them merely on the basis of date of retirement. Government was directed to apply the revised formula of calculation of pension to all pensioners, irrespective of the date of retirement. The government filed a review against the decision of Constitution Bench; the review was rejected.

This decision of Supreme Court became applicable to all central government pensioners, civil and defence. In the writ petition we had included a civilian pensioner and a defence pensioner besides the organisation, as petitioners; the name of civil pensioner D.S. Nakra was placed at no.1 in the list of petitioners. COMMON CAUSE was petitioner no. 3; a senior retired defence officer was petitioner no. 2. The Supreme Court decision, in accordance with the practice of the court, is thus known as D.S.Nakra & others VS Union of India, cited in legal parlance as 1983-(2)-SCR-165 in S.C. reports. Orders were issued by the government in 1983 directing revision of pensions in accordance with the prescribed formula, also entitling them to the payment of increase from 1.4.1979, the date from which the liberalisation had been effected. We thereupon ensured that the revised formula was made applicable also to the pensioners of state governments; its applicability got further extended to pensioners of all institutions and organisations including local bodies etc. Overall benefit by this decision of the Supreme Court, arising from the initiative taken from the platform of COMMON CAUSE, was that millions of pensioners all over the country benefited from it, involving the additional payment of over Rs. 300 crores besides enhancing their pensions for remaining life time. This historic decision was taken note of by the Guinness Book of Records and they wrote to say that according to their information no other single case in the world had directly benefited such a larger number of persons through one decision. This case is now being cited everywhere in the country as criticism of arbitrariness embodied in a government decision whereby discriminations are caused among the same class of persons. (1983-(2)-SCR-165)

April – June 2005