It has been more than six decades since Independence, but the Union Home Ministry is grappling with a peculiar problem: the number of freedom fighters seeking pension seems to grow even today.
The Home Ministry, charged with the task of giving pension to those who took part in the freedom struggle, is handing pensions to 1,70,634 freedom fighters or their dependents.
In the absence of foolproof guidelines for sanctioning pension, the Ministry has to deal with peculiar cases.
The case of Hardev Prasad Singh, son of Janakdhari Singh of Bihar, came as a “wake-up call” for the Ministry, which has prepared a plan to check malpractices.
Hardev Prasad Singh sought pension, claiming that he took part in the freedom struggle when he was 11. But the Ministry rejected his claim, though he had routed it through the Patna High Court. Realising that the guidelines do not set any age bar, the Ministry fixed the limit at 15 years.
Enquiries revealed a large number of individuals, having applied for the pension with forged certificates, giving wrong age and name; even Hardev Prasad Singh had given different names at different places.
The reasons cited by those seeking the benefit vary: the sudden need for money after being abandoned by wards and feigning ignorance about the scheme.
Concerned at the emergence of the “new category” of freedom fighters, the Ministry has decided not to entertain any such case. “We are considering only those cases which have been directed by courts,” Minister of State for Home Ajay Maken said. According to a rough estimate, 2,500-3,000 such cases are pending in courts nationwide.
The Ministry has notified 54 such cases for grant of pension from December 2008 to November 30 this year. The directive came from the High Courts, with Andhra Pradesh accounting for 19 cases and Kerala, 17.
The Centre, too, does not have a reliable database of freedom fighter pension records. Hence, no one knows the number of beneficiaries drawing pension. The Home Ministry has recently asked the Finance Ministry to provide district-wise records.
Beginning work on setting right the things, as directed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Ministry officials have completed work on 20,000 out of nearly 1.71 lakh files, and the process of compilation is expected to be over by March next.
Mr. Maken said the government was keen on streamlining the operation of the scheme to curb misuse.
At present, Bihar has the highest number of beneficiaries: 24,870. It is followed by West Bengal (22,484), Uttar Pradesh (17,990), Maharashtra (17,732), Andhra Pradesh (14,573), Karnataka (10,084), Gujarat (3,596) and Delhi (2,044). There are 22,468 freedom fighters coming under the Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army category. Every pensioner gets Rs.11,331 a month, besides enjoying other facilities, including free railway passes.
The Centre disbursed Rs.640,64,93,197 in pension during 2008-09, and spent Rs. 5 crore on other facilities.
Mr. Maken said money was not the problem, and the sacrifices made by the freedom fighters could not be compensated by any amount of money. “The Home Minister is keen to ensure that the scheme benefits the deserving people, and attempts to perpetrate fraud in the name of freedom fighters are checked.”