A scam of huge proportions has sucked in one of the most respectable sections of our society: freedom fighters.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Mahishadal police (in East Midnapore) have begun probing freedom fighters who have faked their status, but are enjoying pension from both the Centre and the state government.
The government spends about Rs. 100 crore annually on the pension, railway passes and upkeep of freedom fighters. There are about 1.7 lakh people across the country who enjoy these facilities.
Fifteen such freedom fighters — all from East Midnapore, which was the hub of the ‘Quit India’ Movement — have already been identified in West Bengal. The State Bank of India’s Mahishadal branch (in East Midnapore) has, so far, frozen the pension accounts of five such people since April 4, 2012. The bank’s action followed instructions from the freedom fighters’ division of the Union home ministry.
These five accounts belong to Nanigopal Samanta, Kanailal Maity, Rajubala Maity (wife of late Bushbupada Maity), Sovarani Mal (wife of late Sridam Chandra Mal) and Ananta Kumar Pal — all residents of Mahishadal.
“The highest number of complaints have come from West Bengal. While 15 are being probed, 10 others are under the scanner. We’ve asked for reports from the state government,” Deepak Mitra, under-secretary in the Union home ministry told HindustanTimes.
The pension amounts are not meagre. While the Centre gives a monthly assistance of Rs. 18,500 under its Swatantrata Sainik Samman programme, the state government doles out a sum of Rs. 4,500 to freedom fighters under the Political Sufferers’ Pension scheme.
There are other freebies that come with the money. Every freedom fighter gets a free BSNL landline with unlimited call facility, unlimited free cooking gas, unlimited free travel in AC IItier with one companion and treatment at super-specialty government-run hospitals. After the death of the freedom fighter, his/her spouse continues to get the pension and other benefits.
What triggered the present probe against so many from one East Midnapore town was a series of complaints by Tapan Jana, a resident of Amritberia village in Mahishadal. He petitioned just about every authority, saying a large number of people posing as freedom fighters were drawing pension from banks. Although Jana complained in 2010, both the CID and the CBI sat tight on it initially.
Then, an RTI query revealed that seven people who were receiving government pension did not figure in the police registers of pre-Independence days, one of the prerequisites for gaining freedom fighter status.
An on-the-spot investigation by HT revealed that freedom fighter Tarapada Tewari, from the Garkamalpur area in Mahishadal was just a seven-yearold boy at the time of the ‘Quit India’ Movement (1942), in which he supposedly participated.
HT accessed the admission register of the Mahishadal Raj High School, where Tewari studied, which clearly shows that, at the time of his admission on January 10, 1944, he was only nine years old.
Then, there is the case of pensioner Nanigopal Samanta, who, according to records, was just a 15-year-old boy at the time of
Independence. Moreover, the IB report on Nanigopal Samanta prepared in 2001 says there are no records to corroborate Samanta’s claim that he suffered in pre-Independence India at the hands of the British because of his political activities. Following this, Samanta’s pension was discontinued in April 2012.
The IB report on another socalled freedom fighter, Kanailal Maity, says similar things. This correspondent met Tewari at Garkamalpur, Kanailal Maity at Keshavpur, Nanigopal Samanta, Madan Mohan Das and Parameswar Samanta at Amritberia. All of them claimed to have taken part in the freedom movement, but refused to elaborate when asked about their age and the relevant police report. They produced horoscopes to the government as proof of their age.
In a letter dated January 24, 2012, to the deputy secretary in the freedom fighters division of the Union home ministry, Mira Roy, joint secretary in the home (political-PSP) department, West Bengal government, gave details of the police reports of the eight persons. The report did not support the claims of the pensioners.