Freedom fighters win 36-year-long battle for pension

NEW DELHI, 12/02/2018: A view of Delhi High Court, in New Delhi on February 12, 2018. Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma  

For most freedom fighters, getting the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension (SSSP) is more about the honour than the money. Two freedom fighters, both in their 90s now, had to fight the government for 36 years before finally getting their token of respect.

Dev Narayan Mishra and Rajendra Thakur had applied for pension under the SSSP scheme in 1982 and 1981 respectively, but the Centre denied them the pension every step of the way. Having lost all hope, they recently approached the Delhi High Court.

Acting on their separate pleas, the High Court had about three years back directed the Centre to grant them their pension along with arrears.

But the Centre challenged it on the grounds that the two men did not fulfil the conditions to be granted pension under the scheme.

Dismissing the Centre’s appeal, the High Court, in a combined verdict last month, reminded the government not to take a “hyper-technical” approach while granting pension to freedom fighters under the scheme.

“In the present case, the respondents [Mr. Mishra and Mr. Thakur] fulfil the conditions as stated in the SSSP scheme for the grant of pension and it is also a settled proposition of law that the court shall not adopt a hyper-technical approach while dealing with the case of freedom fighters,” a Bench of Justice G.S. Sistani and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal said.

Noting that the basic objective of the scheme is to honour and benefit the kith and kin of freedom fighters, the Bench noted that “the standard of proof required in such cases is not as required in criminal cases”. “Once on the basis of evidence it is probable that the respondent had suffered imprisonment during freedom struggle, a presumption is required to be drawn in his favour,” the HC stated.

The SSSP scheme

The SSSP scheme was introduced in 1980 by the Centre for grant of pension to freedom fighters and their families from central revenues to extend the benefit of pension to all freedom fighters as a token of respect.

For a person to be eligible for pension under the scheme, he/she should have remained underground for a period of more than six months during the freedom struggle for the reason of being declared a proclaimed offender, or one on whom an award for arrest on his head was announced, or one for whose detention, and order was issued but not served.

The freedom fighters

Mr. Mishra, (90), participated in the freedom movement and remained underground from August 1942 to 1946. In support of his application for grant of SSSP scheme, Mr. Mishra submitted a certificate of personal knowledge (PKC), issued by one Bhagirath Jha, who was a freedom fighter and had remained under detention from 1942-46.

Mr. Thakur (96), also took part in the freedom struggle and remained underground between August 1942 till May 1946. Despite making his application for SSSP scheme in 1981, he was denied the pension.

The Centre claimed that the PKC was a secondary evidence and cannot be accepted unless a Non Availability of Records Certificate (NARC), issued by the State government, is duly furnished by the claimant. It argued that in both cases, no NARC was furnished.

The HC verdict

“A conjoint reading of the PKC issued by Mr. Jha along with GR [Government Record] no. 917/1942 as well as various other letters issued by the Government of Bihar, it is evident that the respondent participated in the freedom struggle,” the HC said, noting that in appreciating the scheme for the benefit of freedom fighters a rationale, and not a technical approach, is required to be adopted.

The HC upheld its earlier verdict directing the government to pay the pension to the duo with arrears.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 4:53:35 PM |

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