Being an “absconder” is not same as being “underground” to claim benefit under the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980

Supreme Court: In the case where the widow of Lt. Hari Kant Jha, a freedom fighter who was accused and arrested in a criminal case emanating from freedom struggle movement of 9th August, 1942, sought pension under Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980, the bench of Dipak Misra and R. Banumathi, JJ held that being an “absconder” is not synonymous to being “underground” and hence, the freedom fighter in the present case did not meet the eligibility criteria of either being an underground within the meaning of the Scheme for more than six months.

As per the Scheme, where primary evidence viz. records of the relevant period are not available, ‘Non-Availability of Record Certificate (NARC)’ from the concerned authority, in the form of secondary evidence becomes a pre-requisite for claiming “underground suffering”. The instructions require the State Government to issue NARC only after due verification from the concerned sources. The Scheme explicitly lays down that the claim of being “underground” can be proved either by documentary evidence by way of Court’s/Government’s orders proclaiming the applicant as an offender, announcing an award on his head, or for his arrest or ordering his detention; or, Certificates from veteran freedom fighters who had themselves undergone imprisonment for five years or more if the official records are not forthcoming due to their non-availability

The freedom fighter had remained absconding for a period of 2 years starting from 16.08.1942 to 14.10.1944. He was then arrested and discharged from the case on 25.01.1945. The appellant was, however, not able to produce the document supporting the claim of her husband being “undergound” for that period. In the case of appellant, Central Government stated that the appellant has not produced any acceptable record-based evidence duly verified by the State Government to establish the claimed ‘jail’ or ‘underground sufferings’ of Late Shri Hari Kant Jha. She has also not produced NARC from the competent authority as required and that thus, the eligibility criteria is not met. Also, the Central Government stated that the jail suffering of Shri Hari Kant Jha was only for thirteen days whereas the minimum jail suffering required to become eligible for pension is 6 months.

The Court held that the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980 is a document based Scheme and the documents required for eligibility for Samman Pension as mentioned in the Scheme are to be produced by the applicant in support of his claimed suffering, duly verified and recommended by the concerned State Government. Hence, due to the discrepancies and ambiguities relating to the documents and also due to non-production of NARC, benefit of the Scheme could not be extended to the appellant. [Jagdamba Devi v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 75, decided on 31.01.2017]

 

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