Weeks after returning to power in Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Kamal Nath has put on hold further payment of a monthly pension to those detained during the Emergency under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) and Defence of India Rules (DIR).
Indications that the MP government would change the scheme had begun soon after the Congress government assumed power in December. Under the Loknayak Jaiprakash Narayan Samman Nidhi Niyam, nearly 2,000 people jailed during the Emergency get a monthly pension of Rs 25,000.
The move has drawn sharp criticism from the Opposition BJP, which has dubbed the proposed changes as a political vendetta. Incidentally, Nath was among several leaders Sanjay Gandhi inducted into the Congress during the Emergency between 1975 and 1977 and was part of Sanjay’s inner circle.
According to an MP government circular, dated December 29, 2018, and issued to all divisional commissioners and district collectors, the process to distribute the honorarium needs to be changed to make it “accurate and transparent”. According to the order, separate guidelines will be sent for physical verification of all beneficiaries.
The circular cites CAG reports to insinuate that amounts more than the budgetary allocation have been spent under the scheme launched by the BJP in 2008. It further says the department concerned finds it difficult to explain the anomaly to the Public Accounts Committee. To reconcile the expenditure more than the budgetary allocation, the legislation (governing the scheme) has to be tabled again on the floor of the Assembly, it says.
The circular does not give any time frame by which the verification of beneficiaries has to be completed. Though the honorarium due in January has been paid to most beneficiaries, there is no clarity on whether they will receive it next month.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Kailash Soni, who is national head of the Loktantra Senani Sangh, said the 2000-odd beneficiaries in MP include more than 300 widows who receive half the pension after their husband’s death. He claimed that he has not come across any CAG report on irregularities in the scheme. It has never been submitted on the floor of the assembly, he said.
Soni said the scheme cannot be scrapped or tinkered with by administrative order. “If any such illegality is committed we will challenge it in court,’’ he told The Indian Express. Referring to the proposed physical verification of beneficiaries, he said banks that distribute the honorarium do so at their level every month.
“There is no fake beneficiary. In fact, the number has come down from the initial 2400-odd to 2,000 which proves that the process is accurate,’’ he said. According to him, even Congress activists are among the beneficiaries.
Soni said the Congress government had adopted an undemocratic approach. “Those who went to jail during the Emergency ensured that democracy was restored in the country and elections conducted. Kamal Nath himself is a beneficiary of that battle,’’ he said.
Congress leader Narender Saluja accused the BJP of deliberately creating confusion over a circular that does not talk about scrapping the scheme but only making it transparent and calling for physical verification in view of the audit objections.
State Congress leaders have always argued that the payment of the honorarium was a political decision and that the beneficiaries include those people who never went to jail or spent just one day in jail.
The BJP government had introduced the scheme in 2008 by equating the detainees under MISA and DIR with freedom fighters. The initial honorarium of Rs 6,000, to those who spent at least six months in jail. The rules of the scheme have been amended four times. Currently, anyone who spent more than a month in jail during the Emergency gets Rs 25,000 a month.
Haryana, Maharashtra and Bihar are among the other states that have similar pension schemes for those jailed during the Emergency. While Haryana pays Rs 10,000 pension to around 450 people, Maharashtra pay between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 and a scheme Bihar offers 2,673 people pensions between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.