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If an unmarried daughter is eligible for a certain benefit, a divorced daughter cannot be denied in the same: Delhi High Court

There would be no rationality to the reason that the unmarried daughter can be included in the list of eligible dependents and a divorced daughter would stand excluded, particularly when she is the sole eligible dependent and thus, qualifies for the benefit, which is concededly made admissible only to one dependent. This was held by the Hon’ble Justice V. Kameshwar Rao in the case of Smt. Kolli Indira Kumari Vs. The Union of India [W.P.(C) 7343/2020] on the 10th of August 2021, before the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi at New Delhi.

The brief facts of the case are, in the year 1972 the respondent No.1-Government of India had, during 25th Anniversary of the Independence framed a central scheme for grant of pension to freedom fighters and their families from central revenue. The Scheme commenced from August 15, 1972 and provided for grant of pension to living freedom fighters and their families and if they are no more alive, to the families of martyrs. The benefit of the said Scheme was extended with effect from August 01, 1980 to all the freedom fighters as a token of ‘SAMMAN’ to them under the scheme namely “SWATANTRATA SAINIK SAMMAN PENSION SCHEME”. The father of the petitioner was granted the benefits of the said Scheme. He died on November 01, 2019 leaving behind his widowed daughter, the petitioner herein, who is physically handicapped and mentally challenged and unemployed and also bed ridden. It is the case of the petitioner that the husband of the petitioner late Sh. Kolli Lakshmana Rao working in private sector had also died on October 26, 2000 and after her husband’s demise, the petitioner was fully dependent upon her late father Sh. K. Appa Rao. After the death of her father, the petitioner filed an application on November 11, 2019 with all necessary documents for disbursal of pension to her, in Bank of Baroda Visakhapatnam. On receipt of the application, the Bank of Baroda vide its letter dated December 17, 2019 has requested the respondent No.1 to transfer the freedom fighter pension to the petitioner. On February 12, 2020, the respondent No.1 sent a communication to the petitioner rejecting the request of the petitioner in terms of para 5.2.5 of the revised policy guidelines which states that widowed / divorced daughter is not eligible for Pension. aggrieved by this, the present petition has been filed.

The counsel for the petitioner submits that, the only ground for the respondent No.1 to deny the petitioner the benefit of the Pension Scheme is that being the widowed daughter of the freedom fighter, she is not entitled to the same, is contrary to the settled position of law inasmuch as para 5.2.5 of the Pension Scheme has been interpreted to include widowed / divorced daughters also. For all purposes, para 5.2.5 of the Pension Scheme includes a widowed daughter and the fact that there is no dispute that the petitioner is a widowed daughter of Sh. K. Appa Rao, there is no impediment for the respondents to grant the benefit of the Pension Scheme and disburse the same in favour of the petitioner. The counsel for the respondents however contends that, in the context of the beneficial scheme for compassionate appointment, the policy laid down by the Government should not be departed from, merely on account of sympathetic considerations and hardship. In substance, it is his plea as the petitioner did not meet the requirement under the Pension Scheme, she is not entitled. The court heard the submissions of both the parties and analyzed the issue whether a widowed daughter of a freedom fighter entitled to the benefit of the Pension Scheme as a dependent of the freedom fighter or not. To answer this, the court relied on the judgement in Khazani Devi vs. Union of India and Ors. LPA No. 1721/2015, wherein it was held that, “However, as far as daughters having no independent source of income are concerned, widowed/divorced daughters stand on an equal footing with a spinster daughter as heirs of the deceased freedom fighter. The marital status of all of them is “unmarried”. Thus, the criterion of exclusion of widowed/divorced daughters, as sought to be projected by respondent no. 1, is untenable in the eye of law. As such, Clause 5.2.5 is patently violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, which ensures equality among people standing on the same footing, in the absence of reasonable classification or intelligible differentia

The court also relied in the judgement in Sonali Hatua Giri v. Union of India and Ors. W.P.A. 13806/2019, wherein it was held that, “With utmost respect, even without going into the question of parity with other pension schemes, the view of the Punjab and Haryana High Court is more applicable in the present case. In the said judgment, it was held that it would be a travesty to exclude a divorced daughter when an unmarried daughter finds mention in the list of eligible dependents. It was further held that there would be no rationality to the reason for such distinction, particularly when the divorced daughter is the sole eligible dependent and qualifies for the benefit. It was held that a beneficial scheme such as the one in hand should not be construed on a strict interpretation, which tends to disapprove the claims of the benefit, to result in virtual frustration or negation of the laudable motive of the scheme itself”. Applying the rationale held in these cases, the petition was allowed by decreeing, “An unmarried daughter finds mention in the list of eligible dependents. It would, thus, be a travesty to exclude a divorced daughter. There would be no rationality to the reason that the unmarried daughter can be included in the list of eligible dependents and a divorced daughter would stand excluded, particularly when she is the sole eligible dependent and thus, qualifies for the benefit, which is concededly made admissible only to one dependent. The Division Bench was of the opinion that a beneficial Scheme such as the one in hand should not be fettered or constructed by a rigorous interpretation which tends to deprive the claimants of the benefit to result in virtual frustration or negation of the laudable motive of the Scheme itself.”

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