New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, who recently took control the state, has put the future pensions of those detained during the Emergency on hold. Up until now, monthly pensions have been paid under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) and Defence of India Rules (DIR) as per a scheme launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in 2008.
The state has been spending Rs 70-75 crore each year on MISA detainees. Madhya Pradesh’s former chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is also among the beneficiaries of the scheme.
Shortly after returning to power, the Congress government passed an order directing officials to hold the monthly pension of Rs 25,000 until physical verification of former MISA detainees has been done. Under the Loknayak Jaiprakash Narayan Samman Nidhi Niyam, nearly 2,000 people have been drawing a monthly pension of Rs 25,000 – a scheme the current government is looking to change.
As per a December 29 order – which cites a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) claiming amounts greater than the budgetary allocation have been spent under the scheme – the reason for the change is to make the process “accurate and transparent”. The government will also issue separate guidelines for physical verification of all beneficiaries – but it does not mention by when this process will be complete.
While Narendra Saluja, a Congress spokesperson, said the order does not remove the pension scheme but only talks about a necessary exercise prior to the disbursement of money, party sources told Indian Express that some leaders believed that most of the beneficiaries were affiliated to the BJP or the Sangh parivar.
BJP opposes the move
Labelling it ‘political vendetta’, the BJP has strongly opposed the move. “Great injustice has been done to the people from all sections of society who had opposed and suffered a lot during the Emergency that had been imposed to hound people and stifle the democracy,” PTI quoted state BJP general secretary V.D. Sharma as saying.
“The victims were not affiliated to a particular ideology,” Sharma said, adding that “we are going to oppose the Congress government’s decision tooth and nail”.
BJP leader Kailash Soni, who is also the national head of the Loktantra Senani Sangh, said among the beneficiaries of the scheme in Madhya Pradesh are 300 widows who receive half the amount after their husband’s death. According to the Indian Express, Soni further said he hadn’t come across any CAG report citing irregularities in the scheme and if any changes are made, “we will challenge it in court.”
Since the scheme was first introduced in 2008, its rules have been amended four times. Currently, anyone who spent more than a month in jail during the Emergency gets Rs 25,000 a month.
Past Congress opposition to pension scheme
Madhya Pradesh, however, is not alone in paying a monthly honorarium to those taken prisoners during Emergency. Haryana, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Bihar have similar schemes.
In June 2018, the Maharashtra BJP government finalised a monthly pension of Rs 10,000 to those who were jailed for more than a month and Rs 5,000 to those jailed for less than that.
The Congress in Maharashtra at the time opposed the scheme by the Devendra Fadnavis government saying it was a “gross insult to those genuine freedom fighters who fought against the British rule”.
Saying that there was “no comparison” between those imprisoned during the Emergency and the freedom fighters, Congress leader Ashok Chavan who has served as chief minister of the state, said at the time: “This has been done at the behest of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which had no role in the freedom struggle. On the contrary, the RSS tried to appease the British rulers. This is dishonouring the freedom fighters.”
Changes to the scheme in Rajasthan
Under Ashok Gehlot, the Congress government in Rajasthan scrapped the pension scheme in 2009 – introduced by Vasundhara Raje government during its first term. “We will not pay a single penny to the MISA detainees as pension,” said Shanti Dhariwal, the then home minister.
In January 2014, however, the Raje government decided to re-start the pension. Last July, the government also increased the amount from Rs 12,000 to Rs 20,000 per month.