October 11, 2021 1:33:49 am
The Bombay High Court recently held that as the pension scheme for freedom fighters and their dependents was introduced with a “genuine desire to assist and honour those who had given the best part of their lives for the country,” then it “ill-behoves” the Maharashtra government to reject claims due to lack of documents or delayed applications.
The court said that “in fact, the government should find out freedom fighters and their dependents and approach them with the pension, instead of requiring them to make applications” for the same and that would be the ‘true spirit’ of working out the scheme.
Observing this, the court directed secretary of the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), Raigad to assist the nonagenarian widow of the freedom fighter, who was refused pension of deceased freedom fighter husband for want of his jail certificate, in collecting documents and evidence to prove her claim.
As an interim arrangement, the court also directed the state government to begin paying pension to the widow from October this year, subject to outcome of her plea, since she had been pursuing her case since 1993.
A division bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan and Justice Madhav Jamdar on October 7 was hearing a plea by Shalini Laxman Chavan (90), freedom fighter’s wife, which stated that late Laxman Ramchandra Chavan was a freedom fighter, who had participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942 and he was sentenced to 18-month imprisonment for such participation. Initially, he was lodged in Thane prison and was later transferred to Byculla prison in April, 1944.
The plea said that though the State of Maharashtra has framed a pension scheme for freedom fighters called Freedom Fighters Pension Scheme, 1972, the benefit of the said scheme has not been extended to the petitioner whose husband passed away in March 1965 and her only son also passed away thereafter.
Advocates Jitendra M Pathade and Shrikant Raokar, representing the petitioner, said the denial of pension was due to the fact that the old records in the Byculla District Prison containing details of Chavan’s six-month imprisonment may have been destroyed.
The HC had last month pulled up the government and said that withholding freedom fighter’s pension since his death in 1965 is not justified and sought its response to a plea by the 90-year-old widow.
Government Pleader Purnima H Kantharia for state government placed on record an affidavit in reply, which stated that the petitioner is not eligible for grant of pension as she has not submitted original imprisonment certificate, which is a mandatory document required to be submitted before the authority to avail pension as per Government Resolution (GR) of July, 1995.
After hearing submissions, the bench referred to past Supreme Court rulings and observed, “In so far sufficiency of proof, it was not possible for the court to scrutinise the documents which was the function of the government. Almost all the freedom fighters must have grown pretty old, if they were alive. Where the freedom fighters are not alive and their widows and unmarried daughters have to prefer claims, in such cases position may still be worse with regard to their knowledge of the prescribed date.”
It added, “The objective of the scheme is to honour the freedom fighters. There cannot be a rigid time-limit for making such applications…There may be cases where because of long lapse of time or other circumstances beyond the control of the applicant, it is almost impossible or cumbersome to procure and produce all stipulated documents. In such cases, the claim cannot be summarily rejected for want of documents…”
The court will hear the plea next on January 6, 2022.
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