• Kyodo

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The Niigata District Court on Thursday ordered the state to pay a combined 14 million yen to two disabled men who were denied disability benefits because they had not joined the national pension program as students.

Presiding Judge Shinji Inukai ruled in favor of Naoki Tondokoro, 41, and Masataka Abe, 37, both from Niigata Prefecture, saying the government had violated the constitutional guarantee of equality under law.

“It was an extremely irrational and discriminatory act” on the part of the government not to make it mandatory for students aged 20 or older to join the pension program in the 1985 revision of the pension law, thereby leaving room for students in this bracket to face disadvantages.

The state has refused to pay basic disability benefits to people who had not joined the pension plan when they were students aged 20 or older, before suffering debilitating injuries.

There are an estimated 4,000 people in Japan who have been denied benefits for this reason.

The government pays between 790,000 yen and 990,000 yen per year in basic disability benefits to those who meet the necessary criteria, including those who became disabled before they turned 20.

Abe became disabled after suffering spinal injuries in an accident at a night club in Tokyo in January 1988, when he was 21. Tondokoro became paralyzed from the neck down in a sea accident in June 1987. They had claimed a combined 40 million yen in damages from the government.

Before the revised national pension law — which obligates everyone aged 20 or older to join the pension program — took effect in April 1991, it was optional for university students over 20 to take part in the scheme.

A 1985 legal revision had made it possible for those who became disabled before reaching 20 to receive basic benefits.

The government has argued that plaintiffs themselves were to blame for their inability to receive benefits because they had not joined the national pension program of their own volition.

But the judge concluded that the plaintiffs should shoulder no blame.

The judge said: “For most university students, who lack sources of revenue on their own, it is difficult to pay the premiums. The government also failed to make sufficient public relations efforts to let the students understand that they may not be entitled to receive disability benefits unless they join the pension program.”

Thursday’s ruling in Niigata was the second ruling to be handed down in connection with a series of similar lawsuits filed with nine district courts nationwide. In the first ruling on the issue in March, the Tokyo District Court ordered the government to pay 5 million yen each to three disabled people. Both sides have appealed the ruling.

In June, two bills designed to provide relief to individuals such as the plaintiffs were submitted to the Diet — one by the Democratic Party of Japan and the other jointly by the Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner, New Komeito.

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