Madras HC Orders MHA to Grant Pension for 94-Year-Old INA Veteran Detained in 1945 Rangoon Jail

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The Ministry had rejected the pension claim on the ground that the supporting documents were not in strict adherence of the criteria provided under the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Yojana

The Madras High Court recently directed the Union Government to provide pension to a 94-year-old former member of the Indian National Army who was incarcerated in Rangoon (Myanmar) in 1945. While issuing the order, court emphasized the need for a harmonious interpretation of the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Yojana schemes.

The Chief Justice SV Gangapurwala and Justice Bharatha Chakravarthy's bench acknowledged the complexity of cases involving Indian National Army members detained in foreign countries. The bench stressed the necessity to interpret the scheme harmoniously in such situations rather than strict adherence to the provided criteria.

In the case at hand, the petitioner, RK Venkatachalam, an Indian National Army member and participant in the Indian Independence League in 1943, was arrested during a freedom struggle campaign in Burma. He was kept in Rangoon jail from May 1945 to December 1945.

As he had suffered incarceration for more than 6 months, he made a claim for Freedom Fighters Pension under the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Yojana. His incarceration was affirmed by two of his co-prisoners and he also possessed a certificate from a Colonel who was a member of the Indian National Army Freedom Fighters Pension Committee.

However, the claim was rejected by the Home Ministry in 2018 because his co-prisoners, who certified the imprisonment of the petitioner did not suffer incarceration for a period of one year as was required under the scheme.

The scheme requires claimants to furnish a certificate from jail authorities, district magistrates, or state government for proof. Alternatively, in the absence of such documentation, individuals can obtain a non-availability of record certificate from relevant authorities, supported by certificates from co-prisoners with at least one year of incarceration.

Against rejection of his claim, Venkatachalam approached the high court and a single judge bench allowed his plea directing the authorities to disburse his pension.

Subsequently, the order of the single-judge bench was challenged by the Ministry of Home Affairs in an appeal.

Before the division bench, the Ministry argued that pension eligibility depends on meeting mandatory criteria, emphasizing the non-binding nature of state government approvals upon the central government.

Citing precedents, MHA stressed the need for necessary documents to support claims. Additionally, it asserted that the high court couldn't issue directions in matters requiring evidence appreciation.

On the contrary, Venkatachalam argued that the State Government had deemed him eligible for a pension and made a corresponding recommendation. He also pointed out that in a similar situation, a coordinate bench of the high court had directed the granting of pension.

The division bench observed that mainland prisoners could provide certificates from jail authorities as proof, but members of the INA, detained in foreign countries, lacked such certificates. Court emphasized that rigidly insisting on the one-year jail term criterion for co-prisoners of the claimant would turn it into a condition of eligibility rather than proof.

“The scheme has to be read harmoniously and in the facts of the present case, where the co-prisoners have suffered a term slightly lesser than one year, the same cannot be put against the first respondent, who is otherwise eligible for pension,” the court observed.

Therefore, while noting that the on-field inquiry conducted by the District Collector had found the petitioner eligible, and the state government had recommended the pension accordingly, court upheld the single judge bench's order. It, however, modified the order on the arrears' payment commencement date. 

Case Title: The Under Secretary to Govt. of India v . R.K.Venkatachalam and Others