During the Silver Jubilee year of independence, a central scheme for grant of pension to freedom fighters and their eligible dependants was introduced by the Government of India with effect from 15th August 1972. The said scheme was further liberalized and re-named as ‘Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980’ and is made effective from 1st August 1980. As per the said scheme, all the persons who had participated in the freedom movement in some way or the other, are not eligible for pension, but only certain categories of freedom fighters, who fit into the criteria notified, are eligible for grant of pension under the above-said scheme.
In the said scheme, there is no restriction as such, with regard to the minimum age for grant of freedom fighters’ pension. It appears, when there were certain complaints with regard to false claims, against the cases recommended by Sri Ch. Rajeshwar Rao Committee, the Committee which was constituted for scrutinizing the applications, it was decided in 1998 to get the genuineness of all the cases verified by the State Government. For the purpose of screening the false claims, the 1st respondent-Central Government appears to have instructed the State Governments to insist for production of certificates to show that the claimants were not below the age of 15 years at the time of Hyderabad Liberation Movement. A copy of such letter addressed by the Government of India is also placed on record and I have perused the same. In this case, from the proceedings of the District Collector, Hyderabad and the earlier recommendations made by the 2nd respondent-Government in Letter No. 371/83/FF.II-A(1)/2003-1, dated 19th May 2004, referring to various documentary evidence, it is clear that the 2nd respondent-Government has also recommended the case of petitioner for grant of pension, stating that such claim is genuine one. When the claim was again referred for re-verification, only on the ground that the petitioner was aged below 15 years in March 1947, his claim is rejected.
Hon’ble Supreme Court, while referring to the earlier case law on the subject in the case of Mukund Lal Bhandari Vs. Union of India (1993 Supp (3) SCC 2), while referring to the object of the freedom fighters’ pension scheme, reiterated the criteria to be adopted to consider the claims under the scheme. In the aforesaid judgment, it is categorically held that the criteria for grant of pension under the scheme is not age, but participation in the freedom struggle. The freedom fighters’ pension can, therefore, in exceptional cases, be granted even to those who were minors at the time of struggle, if evidence clearly showed that they had participated in the freedom struggle and fulfilled the recommendations of the scheme. The aforesaid judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court fully supports the case of the petitioner having regard to the facts and circumstances of the present case. In the present case also, it is to be noticed that the participation of petitioner in the Hyderabad Liberation Movement is not at all in dispute. When reports were called for on the application filed by the petitioner, in clear terms, the Collector, Hyderabad District in Letter No. D5/1520/1999, dated 4th December 2002, addressed to the Government, had clearly stated that the petitioner is eligible for grant of freedom fighters’ pension, and hence, recommended his case for grant of such pension. Even on earlier occasion, when the matter was considered by the State Government having regard to the recommendations made by the District Collector, the State Government has also made a specific recommendation to the 1st respondent-Union of India that the petitioner is entitled for pension and that the claim of the petitioner is genuine. In that view of the matter, when the participation of petitioner in freedom struggle and his fitness into the scheme itself is not in dispute, he cannot be deprived of freedom fighters’ pension. It appears, when there were large number of false claims, based on the recommendations made by the Committee headed by Sri Ch. Rajeshwar Rao, the Government of India, as an extra measure, has addressed the State Government and also has prescribed certain guidelines including the age factor, for the purpose of screening genuine claims. But, as held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the aforesaid judgment, in exceptional cases where the participation of claimant is abundantly proved, it is not open for the respondents to reject the claim of such claimant merely on the ground that he was below the age of 15 years, so as to deprive such a patriotic person, of pension under the scheme.