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Personal Knowledge Certificate Although Secondary Evidence Must Be Accepted: Calcutta HC Directs Centre To Grant Freedom Fighters Pension Within 3 Months

Aaratrika Bhaumik
18 May 2022 9:23 AM GMT
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The Calcutta High Court on Tuesday directed the Union government to grant the freedom fighters pension under the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980, within 3 months to a batch of petitioners after opining that possession of personal knowledge certificates although a form of secondary evidence would be sufficient to be eligible for benefits under the scheme.

During 25th Anniversary of Independence, the Central Government to honour the Freedom Fighters had introduced the Freedom Fighters' Pension Scheme, 1972, for grant of pension to the living Freedom Fighters and their family members.

Subsequently, to extend the benefit of pension to all freedom fighters, the Government of India introduced another scheme on August 15, 1981 namely the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme, 1980 with effect from August 1, 1980 in place of the earlier scheme.

In the instant case, the petitioner had applied for the freedom fighter pension along with general Non-Availability of Record Certificate (NARC) issued by the District Magistrate of Midnapore and Personal Knowledge Certificate issued by Sushil Kumar Dhara, an eminent freedom fighter and eligible certifier of District - Midnapore for grant of the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension.

Subsequently, on November 23, 2015, the petitioner had made a representation to the Deputy Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs requesting for disposal of the application filed by the petitioner. However, the representation of the petitioner was not considered and is still pending before the concerned authorities.

Pursuant to the rival submissions, Justice Krishna Rao observed,

"This Court is satisfied that the certificate issued by Shri Sushil Kumar Dhara would make the petitioner eligible for being granted pension under the said scheme. None has disputed the authenticity of the certificate issued by Shri Sushil Kumar Dhara in favour of the petitioner. This is one of the modes of approving the claim of being a freedom fighter envisaged by the said scheme."

Further, ordering the Union government to process the pension of the petitioners within a period of 3 months the Court observed,

"Accordingly, the respondent authorities i.e. the Union Government is directed to pay the petitioners, Freedom Fighter's Pension under the liberalized "Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme" with effect from the date when the petitioner made an application for grant of pension within 3 (three) months from the date of communication of the copy of this order."

The Court noted that there is no official record available with the petitioner to prove that the petitioner is a freedom fighter of village Chakdurgadaspur however Sushil Kumar Dhara had provided a Personal Knowledge Certificate to the petitioner certifying that the petitioner is a bonafide freedom fighter who remain underground for the period from August, 1942 to September, 1944 as he was one for whose detention order were issued but he evaded arrest.

It was further taken into consideration that Sushil Kumar Dhara was also a freedom fighter who had suffered actual imprisonment for more than 5 years during the freedom struggle and the period of imprisonment had also mentioned been in the concerned certificate which clearly reveals that he had suffered total imprisonment of 5 years 7 months.

Opining that although the personal knowledge certificate is secondary evidence nevertheless it must be accepted as per the terms of the scheme, the Court underscored,

"Although the Personal Knowledge Certificate may be secondary evidence in the absence of primary evidence, the same has to be accepted in terms of the scheme wherein it is categorically mentioned that certificate from veteran freedom fighters who had themselves undergone imprisonment for 5 years or more if official records are not forthcoming due to their non- availability."

It was further opined that Division Benches of the Calcutta High Court have previously held that if the secondary evidence i.e. Personal Knowledge Certificate is provided there is no necessity for production of documentary evidence of non-availability of records during the said period. Reliance was placed on the Calcutta High Court judgments in Gajendranath Manna v. State of West Bengal and in Gokul Chandra Panja v. Union of India & Ors in this regard.

Accordingly, the appeal was allowed.

Case Title: Narayan Chandra Maiti v. Union of India & Ors

Case Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal) 184

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