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Jagdamba Devi v. Union of India And Ors. - (Supreme Court) (31 Jan 2017)

It is not possible for Supreme Court to scrutinize documents as to its sufficiency or otherwise



Present appeal by way of special leave impugns final judgment passed by High Court whereby High Court allowed the Appeal filed by Respondents and thereby declined Appellant’s claim of dependent family pension under Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980. It was the case of Appellant that, Respondent authorities adopted a hyper-technical approach while dealing with case of freedom fighter and ignored basic objectives of scheme, which is to honour and benefit the kith and kin of freedom fighters.

Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980 is a Central Government Scheme for the grant of pension to freedom fighters and their families from Central Revenues which was introduced by the Government of India to extend the benefit of pension to all the freedom fighters as a token of respect to them. Clause 7(b) of the Scheme explicitly lays down that, 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.

Appellant had laid his claim only on ground that Hari Kant Jha had remained underground for more than six months. From Clause 7(b), there are two modes of providing evidence for same. First one is by producing official records and second, where official records were not forthcoming due to their non-availability, as per Clause 7 (b)(ii), by producing certificate from freedom fighters who have themselves undergone imprisonment for five years or more. In case of Appellant, since official records were not traceable due to non-availability, Appellant submitted a certificate from Jagdish Singh who was a veteran freedom fighter. Central Government vide its order dated 15.11.2006 clearly pointed out that none of eligibility criteria were met in case of the appellant. Hari Kant Jha was arrested on 14th October, 1944 and remained in jail till he was released on bail on 27th October, 1944. He was thereafter discharged from case on 25th January, 1945. Word “underground” is not synonymous to being “an absconder”. Based on verification of documents, in its order, Central Government stated that jail suffering of Shri Hari Kant Jha was only for thirteen days whereas the minimum jail suffering required to become eligible for pension is six months. There was neither any document nor any report that Hari Kant Jha was absconding for more than six months. That being “underground” is not synonymous to being an “absconder”.

Where primary evidence viz. records of relevant period are not available, ‘Non-availability of Record Certificate (NARC)’ from concerned authority, in form of secondary evidence becomes a pre-requisite for claiming “underground suffering”. Instructions require State Government to issue NARC only after due verification from concerned sources. In case of Appellant, Central Government stated that, Appellant has not produced any acceptable record-based evidence duly verified by State Government to establish the claimed ‘jail’ or ‘underground sufferings’ of Late Shri Hari Kant Jha. She has also not produced NARC from competent authority as required and that thus, eligibility criteria is not met.

Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980 is a document based Scheme and documents required for eligibility for Samman Pension as mentioned in the Scheme are to be produced by applicant in support of his claimed suffering, duly verified and recommended by the concerned State Government. Due to discrepancies and ambiguities relating to the documents and also due to non-production of NARC, benefit of Scheme could not be extended to Appellant. As held in Raghunath Gajanan’s Case, it is not possible for this Court to scrutinize documents as to its sufficiency or otherwise.

Single Judge has made certain observations to the effect that “Hari Kant Jha was absconding” and that the same was sufficient under provisions of Scheme to declare him “as remaining underground for more than six months”, thereby making him entitled for pension. As rightly observed by Division Bench of High Court, said observation was without reference to Scheme. Single Judge only remanded matter to Central Government for reconsideration, giving liberty to Central Government to reappraise the documents. Upon reappraisal of matter, Government has clearly pointed out that Shri Hari Kant Jha did not meet eligibility criteria of either being an underground within meaning of the Scheme for more than six months or undergoing sentence for more than six months and as such he was ineligible. High Court has rightly held that Central Government was well within its power to hold that Hari Kant Jha was ineligible to seek pension under Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980.

Relevant : State of Maharashtra and Ors. v. Raghunath Gajanan Waingankar: (2004) 6 SCC 584; MANU/SC/0584/2004


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