The Centre was ordered to pay Chellamma Palani her pension three years ago – after which it appealed and appealed until the Supreme Court upheld the order last week.
On Monday, July 24, the Supreme Court bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan dismissed an appeal of the central government against a judgment of the Kerala high court last year directing the Centre to pay a pension to the widow of a freedom fighter from the state, Kunjan Palani. The Supreme Court directed the government to release her pension within a month.
While as many as nine advocates, including additional solicitor general Pinky Anand, appeared for the appellant, the Union of India, none appeared as counsel for the respondents, the state of Kerala and the widow, Chellamma Palani.
A division bench of the Kerala high court, comprising then Chief Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar (now a judge in the Supreme Court) and Justice N. Sathish Ninan, had on October 7 last year described the Centre’s grounds of appeal against the single judge’s direction to release the pension as “frivolous”.
Kunjan had participated in the Punnapra-Vayalar struggle, which was declared part of the freedom struggle by the government. He was a receiving a pension under the Kerala Freedom Fighters’ Pension Scheme. He passed away on April 15, 1996.
Thereafter, Chellamma submitted an application on April 23, 1998, claiming dependent pension under the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980.
Kunjan had been imprisoned for two years in a case connected with the Punnapra-Vayalar struggle, which lasted from October 24, 1949 to October 22, 1951. Along with the claim application, Chellamma produced various certificates, including evidence to show that Kunjan had been receiving state pension. She has also produced an extract from convict register issued by the central prison along with the application.
Chellamma’s application was kept pending till May 12, 2008, when the central government rejected it. She first challenged it before a single-judge bench in the high court, which allowed her writ petition on July 9, 2015.
The Centre then filed a review petition in the high court, saying there was fresh ground for dismissal as she is not entitled to a pension in view of the new pension guidelines announced on August 6, 2014, after the Narendra Modi government came to power. The judge considered this and then rejected the review petition on May 13, 2016.
The high court’s division bench also dismissed the Centre’s appeal against the single judge on the grounds that the new guidelines framed by the Modi government were not applicable to Chellamma, as she had filed her application way back in 1998. “The new guidelines cannot have retrospective effect,” the bench held in its order.
Clause 1.5 of the new guidelines for disbursement of pensions by the Union of India reads:
“No pension shall be sanctioned in the name of the freedom fighter after his/her death even if his/her matter was under examination. This also entails that no life time arrears or Dependant pension shall be sanctioned to his/her spouse/daughter after the death of the freedom fighter.”
On the other hand, Clause 5 of the new guidelines reads as follows:
“Dependent pension shall be sanctioned to the spouse or unmarried daughters only if their names were appearing in the original application form submitted by the freedom fighter or the sanction letter issued by the Ministry. If the freedom fighter marries or has a daughter, either own or adopted, after the sanction of the pension, then family pension to such spouses or daughter shall not be admissible.”
The central government did not accept the state government’s recommendation to release Chellamma’s pension based on the extracts from the convict register.
The state government told the high court that the jail certificate issued by the central prison, Thiruvananthapuram, is a valid document. Based on this, it forwarded a verification report to the Centre, recommending that a pension be paid to Chellamma.
It is not just that the new guidelines, framed by the Modi government after coming to power, fail to acknowledge the contribution of the freedom fighters and their families, and thereby uphold patriotism in letter and spirit. The Modi government’s attempt to legally challenge the high court’s direction to sanction Chellamma’s pension by using three appellate remedies – the review petition before a single judge of the high court, then its division bench and now the Supreme Court – and thereby delay her pension by three years (on top of the nearly 15 years she had already waited) is an eloquent testimony to its lack of sincerity on issues concerning patriotism and nationalism.
That the Centre pursued a frivolous appeal in this matter right from the a single-judge high court bench to the Supreme Court also raises serious questions about its so-called litigation policy, which is supposed to discourage such appeals.