Is a divorced woman entitled to her freedom fighter father's family pension like an unmarried or widowed daughter?
One high court said "yes", while another ruled: "No. It is not a bounty." The Supreme Court has now agreed to settle the question.
The matter was brought before the Supreme Court by Himachal Pradesh-resident Tulsi Devi, 56, who has challenged a high court verdict of last year dismissing her plea for grant of freedom fighter family pension on the ground that there was no provision made in the rules.
A bench of Justices UU Lalit, MM Shantanagoudar and Vineet Sharan, which has taken up the matter through video-conferencing, issued notice to the Centre and sought its response by July-end.
During the hearing, advocate Dushyant Parashar, appearing for Tulsi Devi, said the Himachal Pradesh High Court had committed serious illegality by not considering that petitioner being a divorced daughter was also dependent on Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension being given to her late mother after the death of her father.
He said that an identical case has come forward before the Punjab and Haryana High Court which in 2016 in a case of Khajani Devi held that freedom fighter pension scheme shall also be applicable to the divorced daughter and she shall be considered as eligible dependent at par with unmarried or widowed daughter.
Mr Parashar said that the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2016 case held that Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme is intended to honour the valour of the uniformed people who laid down their lives or suffered for the cause of the country.
He said that when the Centre challenged the Punjab and Haryana High Court order, the top court on September 27, 2019 dismissed the appeal and refused to interfere with the 2016 verdict.
Mr Parashar said that the top court has then agreed with the view of the Punjab and Haryana High Court saying that its 2016 verdict adopts a progressive and socially constructive approach to give benefits to daughter who was divorced treating her at parity with the unmarried daughter.
The bench noted the submission in the order and asked Mr Parashar to file within three weeks instructions issued by the Ministry of Defence on December 14, 2012, which includes a divorced daughter in the category of eligible dependents for grant of liberalised/special family pension beyond 25 years.
"Learned counsel for the petitioner invited our attention to the order dated July 29, 2016 passed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana at Chandigarh at… which in terms referred to Instructions dated December 14, 2012. Let copy of said instructions dated December 14, 2012 be placed on record within three weeks from today. Issue notice, returnable in the last week of July, 2020," the bench said, in its order which was uploaded recently.
Under the eligibility criteria for dependents for Swatantarta Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980, family include (if the freedom fighter is not alive), mother, father, widower/widow if he/she has not since remarried, unmarried daughters.
Tulsi Devi was married in 1980 but after five years of marriage she was turned out of her matrimonial home and her husband married another woman. Since then she has been staying in her parental home dependent on pension received by her father, who was a freedom fighter.
Her father Gopal Ram, passed away in 2007 and her mother started receiving family pension.
On death bed, her mother Kaushalya Devi wrote a letter to the Prime Minister's Office in January 2018, that after her death, the family pension should be given to her daughter as she had no earning of her own and no one to look after her.
The request was denied by the Prime Minister's Office on September 5, 2018. A month later, her mother expired. Aggrieved by the decision of denial of family pension, Tulsi Devi approached the Himachal Pradesh High Court for grant of family pension.
The High Court last year dismissed her plea and made the distinction between pension granted to dependents of freedom fighters and armed forces personnel and central government employee.
It held, "In the cases of 'Armed Forces Personnel' or for that matter Central/ State Government Pensioners, their divorced daughters are entitled to the pension, however, when in the 'Swatantrata Sainik Samman Yojana', there is no such provision and rightly so, because the 'Swatantrata Sainik Samman Yojana' has been launched 'as a mark of respect' to the Freedom Fighters, whereas in the case of Armed Forces Personnel or the Central/State Government Pensioners/Employees, the pension is not a 'bounty', but it is the 'property', they earned during their service career, therefore, the petitioner under 'Swatantrata Sainik Samman Yojana' cannot claim the grant of pension."
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