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Ganpatrao Chhotuji Gabhane and Ors. v. The State of Maharashtra and Ors. - (High Court of Bombay) (14 Jun 2017)

State Government is not competent either to stop or reduce pension granted to freedom fighters unless the same was obtained on mistaken grounds or false information



Present petition is filed by freedom fighters or their dependents challenging reduction in amount of monthly pension of Rs. 3,000/- granted to them under Scheme of Swatantra Sainik Samman Pension, 1980 which is brought down to Rs. 500/- per month. Challenge in this petition is to the Circular/order dated 16th November, 2004 passed by State Government. Moot question is whether State Government is competent to reduce or stop pension once granted to freedom fighters under Scheme of Swatantra Sainik Samman Pension, 1980 for their participation in Goa Liberation Movement Phase-II (1954-55).

In decision of Apex Court in case of Mukund Lal Bhandari, it is held that, object in granting pension to freedom fighters is not to reward or compensate sacrifices made in freedom struggle but to honour and also to mitigate sufferings of those, who had given their all for country in hour of its need. It is honour to acknowledge valuable sacrifice. Decision of Apex Court in case of Gurdial Singh vs. Union of India and ors. holds that it should not be forgotten that, persons intended to be covered by Scheme have suffered for country about half a century back and had not expected to be rewarded for imprisonment suffered by them. It further holds that, once country had decided to honour such freedom fighters, bureaucrats are expected to keep in mind purpose and object of Scheme. Aforesaid decisions recognize phenomenal spirit of patriotism with which honour of granting life time pension is conferred upon freedom fighters for their long struggle for entire nation which emerges as beneficiary. A spirit of patriotism cannot be forgotten and buried in books of Indian history. Freedom fighters, who fought for freedom of State or nation irrespective of their cast, creed, religion, etc., are inspirators for people in India to remain secular and united.

High Court viewed that, freedom fighters stand on a higher pedestal than employees in public employment, though grant of pension to them is a discretionary exercise by State or Central Government. Pension to freedom fighters would certainly be a "property", within meaning of Article 300A of Constitution of India. Once State or Central Government grants such pension to freedom fighters or their dependents for their life time, it cannot be withdrawn partially or fully unless such right is reserved in instrument of granting pension for some valid reasons.

Unfortunately, Respondents have forgotten spirit of patriotism, struggle and sufferings by freedom fighters for nation and object with which policy granting pension was introduced. Power of State Government to change or alter policy decision cannot be doubted, but it cannot be in ignorance of culture and healthy traditions of Indian People to honour and respect freedom fighters of nation. Impugned action can be described as abasing freedom fighters and losing our own values and importance of days of freedom struggle.

Sanction of President of India obtained by Central Government, as it appears from communication dated 18th August, 2003, clearly shows that, grant of pension by Central Government is in addition to one which is granted by State Government. Unilateral sudden change in policy decision without sanction from President of India cannot be sustained.

Therefore, High Court held that, once pension was granted to freedom fighters, State Government was not competent either to stop said pension fully or to withdraw or reduce it partially for any reasons whatsoever unless a case is made out that such pension was obtained on mistaken grounds or false information, as is contained in order dated 22nd July, 2004 passed by Central Government. No such case is made out by Respondents. Consequently, alternate question of recovery with retrospective effect does not survive. Impugned circular/order dated 16th November, 2004, bearing No. Misc-2004/CR-161/04/FFC-1, issued by General Administration Department of State of Maharashtra is set aside and Respondents are restrained from reducing or recovering amount of pension payable or paid to Petitioners by State Government.

Relevant : Mukund Lal Bhandari and others vs. Union of India and others MANU/SC/0325/1993; Gurdial Singh vs. Union of India and ors. MANU/SC/0585/2001


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