By LE Desk
New Delhi, March 8: The Supreme Court has asked the Centre how much financial liability will a divorced daughter of a freedom fighter incur if given family pension like an unmarried or a widowed daughter.
A bench of Justices U.U. Lalit and K.M. Joseph posed the question after the Centre told it that if at all the court allows family pension to divorced daughters of freedom fighters besides the unmarried and widowed daughters, then it will incur a financial liability and open a Pandora’s box.
“How much will be the financial liability? Divorced daughters’ cases would be very minimal and thus minimum liability would be incurring. Divorce daughter cases are hardly of any number in the country”, the bench observed, news agency PTI reported.
The top court was dealing with a question whether a divorced woman is entitled to her freedom fighter father’s family pension like an unmarried or widowed daughter as two different high courts have given contradictory opinions on the issue.
The matter was brought before the top court by Himachal Pradesh resident Tulsi Devi (57), who has challenged a high court verdict of last year dismissing her plea for grant of freedom fighter family pension on grounds that there was no provision made in the rules. During the hearing, advocate Dushyant Parashar, appearing for Devi, said the divorced daughter of freedom fighter should be put on a par with the widowed or unmarried daughter.
He said that his client’s father has sacrificed his life for the country and she cannot be allowed to lead a life of penury in view of no source of income to sustain herself and survive. Parashar said that a circular of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) dated December 14, 2012 records the intent for extending the benefit to divorced daughters on a par with widowed or unmarried daughters.
Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Centre, said the family pension, if at all allowed will incur financial liability and would open up a Pandora’s box.
She sought some time to file some additional documents on the issue. The top court granted liberty to both the parties to file additional documents and listed the matter for final disposal in April second week before an appropriate bench. “Post this matter on a Non-Miscellaneous Day for final disposal in the second week of April 2021, before the appropriate court. In the meantime, the parties are at a liberty to file additional documents,” the bench said in its recent order.
On May 28, last year, the top court had agreed to examine the issue after it was pointed out that Punjab and Haryana High Court had said that a divorced woman was entitled for freedom fighter’s family pension while the Himachal Pradesh high court had ruled, “No. It was not a bounty”.
Devi had said the HP High Court had committed serious illegality by not considering that the 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.
She had contended that an identical case has come forward before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which in 2016 in a case of Khajani Devi had held that freedom fighter pension scheme shall also be applicable to divorced daughter and she shall be considered as eligible dependent on a par with unmarried or widowed daughter.
She had argued through her counsel that the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2016 case had held that ‘Swatantrata Sainik Samman’ Pension Scheme is intended to honour the valour of those who laid down their lives or suffered for the cause of the country.
She had said that when the Centre challenged the Punjab and Haryana High Court order, the top court had on September 27, 2019 dismissed the appeal and refused to interfere with the 2016 verdict.
She had submitted that the top court had 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 top court had then asked her counsel to file the circular issued by the MoD’s 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.
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 the 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 High Court for grant of family pension, which dismissed her plea in 2019.