Widowed daughter entitled to freedom fighter pension: Delhi HC

Court relies on judgments passed previously by the Punjab and Haryana HC, and Calcutta HC

The Delhi High Court has reiterated that the widowed daughter of a late freedom fighter is entitled to the benefit of the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme (SSSPS) as a dependent.

Justice V. Kameswar Rao relied on a judgment passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court as well as the Calcutta High Court on the subject, while granting relief to a woman, the sole dependent widow daughter of a freedom fighter.

Ms. Kolli Indira Kumari had approached the High Court after her application to transfer her father’s freedom fighter pension, granted under the SSSPS, to her, after her father’s death, was declined by the government.

Ms. Kumari stated that, in 1972, the Government of India, on the 25th anniversary of Independence, had framed a Central scheme for the grant of pension to freedom fighters and their families from Central revenue. The scheme commenced from August 15, 1972 and provided for the grant of pension to living freedom fighters and their families, and if the freedom fighters are no more alive, to the families of the martyrs.

The benefit of the said scheme was extended with effect from August 1, 1980 to all freedom fighters as a token of samman (honour) to them under the SSSPS.

Ms. Kumari said her father was granted the benefits of the scheme. He died on November 1, 2019 leaving behind his widowed daughter, Ms. Kumari, who is physically handicapped, mentally challenged, unemployed, and also bedridden.

The plea said Ms. Kumari’s husband died on October 26, 2000 after which she was fully dependent upon her late father. After the death of her father, Ms. Kumari filed an application on November 11, 2019 with all necessary documents for disbursal of pension to her.

However, on February 12, 2020, the Central government sent a communication to her rejecting her request on the basis of revised policy guidelines, which states that a widowed or divorced daughter is not eligible for pension.

Justice Rao remarked that the issue is no more res integra (points of the law which have not been decided) in view of the conclusion of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in the case of Khazani Devi Vs. Union of India decided on July 29, 2016. The Punjab and Haryana High Court was of the view that the underlying object in the clause of the scheme listing eligible dependents is that only one person be granted the pension.

“Therefore, the authorities have to construe the admissibility of benefit from that angle. It is not the case that daughters are excluded altogether. An unmarried daughter finds mention in the list of eligible dependents. It would, thus, be a travesty to exclude a divorced daughter,” Justice Rao said.

The High Court reiterated the observation made by the Punjab and Haryana High Court that, “A beneficial Scheme such as the one in hand should not be fettered or constructed by a rigorous interpretation which tends to deprive the claimants of the benefit to result in virtual frustration or negation of the laudable motive of the Scheme itself.”

The Calcutta High Court too had concurred with the views of the Punjab and Haryana High Court while hearing a similar plea.

Justice Rao has directed the Centre to consider the case of Ms. Kumari for grant of dependent pension under the scheme within eight weeks.

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