Special Correspondent

A 24-year-long fight for the benefit ends

CHENNAI: A High Court order directing the Centre to extend the freedom fighter's pension to 82-year-old S.M.S. Lakshmi marked the end of the lady's 24-year-long fight for the benefit.

Quashing a Union Home Ministry order denying her pension, Justice A. Kulasekaran said: "The respondents [Home Ministry] are required to follow a rational approach and not a technical approach. The case of the claimant under this scheme is required to be determined on the basis of probabilities and not on the touchstone of the test of `beyond reasonable doubt.' The impugned order had been passed with a biased and closed mind."

Ms. Lakshmi's husband, late S.M. Shanmugam, was an Indian National Army (INA) and Indian Independence League veteran. He was jailed in the Rangoon Central Jail for over six months in 1942. After the Centre introduced the Swathantra Sainik Samman Pension Scheme in 1972, the couple applied for central pension in 1982. When the Union Home Ministry rejected it, the freedom fighter moved the Madras High Court, which directed the Centre to reconsider the decision. The Centre rejected the applications again twice. In 1999 Mr. Shanmugam passed away.

Demanding pension, A.P. Suryaprakasam counsel for Ms. Lakshmi submitted that a Division Bench of the court had held that once either the State Government or the Centre granted freedom fighters' pension, he/she must automatically get the other pension without any further inquiry. Counsel for the Centre said she was entitled to the pension only on satisfying the facts required as per the scheme.

Pointing out that a co-prisoner of Mr. Shanmugam had given a certificate confirming his incarceration, Mr. Justice Kulasekaran said the documentary evidence was valid until it was controverted by any other evidence. The petitioner's applications had been rejected repeatedly without any reason being assigned. Also, the Centre had not mentioned as to which condition of its guidelines had not been satisfied by Ms. Lakshmi.Convinced that Ms. Lakshmi had "unnecessarily been dragged to litigation thrice for no fault of hers," Mr. Justice Kulasekaran directed the Centre to pay the pension to her, with arrears, within 12 weeks. The future pension too shall be paid promptly "every month without any default," he added.