Mumbai: Observing that withholding pension of a freedom fighter’s widow was not justified, the Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to respond to a 90-year-old widow’s plea for benefits under the government’s pension scheme.
A division bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar, while asking the government to respond by September 30, observed: “… withholding of a freedom fighter’s pension that too for such a long period is not justified.”
The HC was hearing a petition filed by Shalini Chavan, a resident of Raigad district, seeking benefits of the ‘Swatantrata Sainik Sanman Pension Scheme, 1980' to be accorded to her as her late husband was a freedom fighter.
Chavan is the widow of Laxman Chavan, a freedom fighter who had participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942. Chavan was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment. He was lodged at the Byculla Prison in Mumbai from April 17, 1944 to October 11, 1944. He expired on March 12, 1965.
Jitendra Pathade, Chavan’s advocate, argued that the benefit of the pension scheme was not extended to Shalini Chavan on the ground that the records of her husband’s arrest and imprisonment was not available.
In 1966, Chavan had submitted the imprisonment certificate of her late husband to the state government. However, the government could not verify the same as the old records of the Byculla prison containing details of Laxman Chavan’s imprisonment were either destroyed or had perished.
During the hearing on September 24, the court observed that “from the available materials on record, there does not appear to be any dispute as to the status of late Laxman Ramchandra Chavan as a freedom fighter and as regards petitioner as the widow of late Laxman Ramchandra Chavan.”
In view of this fact, the HC said that government’s action of withholding the pension for such a long time was unjustified.
The HC has asked additional government pleader Poornima Kantharia to get instructions from the government on Chavan’s plea by September 30.
Chavan has said in her petition that she is a senior citizen without any support following her son’s death and is struggling for her daily needs.
According to Chavan’s petition, she had applied for an imprisonment certificate from the Superintendent of Byculla jail in 1966 after he husband’s death. She had received the certificate from the prison authorities.
In 1993, she approached the government for grant of pension and other benefits under the scheme. She even submitted all the necessary documents as asked by the government, adds her petition.
In 2002, Chavan also appeared before the freedom fighter high powered committee of the state government where she was informed that her pension claim would be sanctioned.
Her petition stated, “However, till date the petitioner has not received any pension and hence she was left with no remedy than to approach the high court.”
Chavan has further stated in her petition that the Collector of Raigad and Tehsildar of Roha had invited her, being a widow of freedom fighter, to attend the flag hoisting ceremony on the Independence Day in 2019 thereby recognising her entitlement.
The petition prays that the government be directed to pay pension to Chavan from March 12, 1965, the day of death of Laxman Chavan.
Pending hearing in the petition, Chavan has sought that the government pay/grant Provisional pension in the interest of justice. Besides, she has sought that the government be directed to pay her an ex-gratia sum of Rs ten lakh.
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