Finding flaws in Swatantarata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme of 1980, Punjab and Haryana high court directed the Centre on Monday to modify and liberalise the scheme so that dependents of freedom fighters could easily establish their claims for seeking benefits.
"The scheme should contain the clause of legal heirs only rather than creating an artificial limitation on the class of legal heirs," a division bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Mahesh Grover held while hearing a public interest litigation filed by Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich.
"We find that the clause defining the dependents does not synchronize with the avowed objective of the scheme which was to bestow an honour on the freedom fighters and their families who had suffered because of active participation in the freedom struggle of the country. Such honour, which is in recognition of a role exemplar in nature, should not be permitted to be made a hostage to a bureaucratic play of words," the court further said.
The petitioner had sought directions to the central government to liberalise the procedure and manner of producing supportive material to establish the claim of entitlement to the scheme.
After hearing the arguments, the bench also observed, "If the clause defining the dependent is seen, then it defies a rationale as to why unmarried and unemployed daughters (upto maximum of three) and the parents of the deceased freedom fighters have been included, considering the fact that the persons who would have participated in the freedom struggle, would have done so prior to 1947 and at the time when the scheme has been formulated or amended, there would hardly be any parent of a deceased freedom fighter living, to claim such a benefit. Likewise, the question of having unmarried and unemployed daughter would also be a remote possibility."
Hence, the bench added, "These two categories of dependents therefore, have largely rendered the scheme illusory. It would have been more logical to say that the dependents would include the spouses (widow/widower) and the legal heirs of the deceased freedom fighters."
The bench also opined that a certificate once issued by the Centre should be adequate to enable the dependents of freedom fighters who participated in various freedom movements to lay a claim to the benefits of the scheme for employment or other benefits. But, the bench said, this would be subject to the condition that dependents have material to show their relation with the freedom fighter.