By- V.P. Prabhakar :The Indian freedom struggle is a unique example in the history of mankind. The people of all sections, rising above caste-creed, ‘panth’ and community considerations, had come together to take part in it. Starting from 1857 to 1947 it was the struggle and sacrifices of many generations of people as a result of which Independence was achieved. Lakhs of people had taken part in the freedom struggle.
Regular reverence is paid to Subhash Chander Bose, known as Netaji, who formed the Indian National Army (INA) to fight the Britishers. The INA had given a big jolt to the mighty British Empire and the people always remember him for his courage and sacrifice. Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, Udham Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai and thousands of others scarified so that their countrymen could breathe freely in Independent India.
Now it is the duty of the Central and State Governments to look after the freedom fighters who are alive, their spouses and dependent children. The Central Government had instituted the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme under which 1,70,200 freedom fighters and their dependents are at present getting pension. The number continues to vary every year, with the death of old freedom fighters and their dependents and spouses getting the same benefits.
At the time of independence, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh was one state called Punjab. Some parts of Himachal Pradesh were also part of Punjab. Keeping all these states and Chandigarh, the total number of freedom fighters and their dependents getting pension are 9406. If taken separately as today, there are 7008 freedom fighters and their dependents in Punjab, 1685 in Haryana, 89 in Chandigarh and 624 in Himachal Pradesh.
Bihar (Including Jharkhand) tops the list of pensioners with 24870 followed by West bengal with 22484 and very close to it are members of the Azad Hind Fauj (INA) with 22468. Uttar Pradesh has 17990 freedom fighters and their dependents, Andhra Pradesh with 14573, Jammu and Kashmir with 1806, Karnataka with 10084, Maharashtra 17732, Delhi with 2044 and Gujarat with 3596.
The following is the complete list Total (1,70,200) pensioners: Andhra Pradesh (14573), Arunachal Pradesh (0), Assam (4438), Bihar (including Jharkhand) (24870), Goa (1436), Gujarat (3596), Haryana (1685), Himachal Pradesh (624), Jammu & Kashmir (1806), Karnataka (10084), Kerala (3228), Madhya Pradesh (3468), Maharashtra (17732), Manipur (62), Meghalaya (86), Mizoram (04), Nagaland (03), Orissa (4189), Punjab (7008), Rajasthan (811), Sikkim (0), Tamil Nadu (4099), Tripura (887), Uttar Pradesh (17990), West bengal (22484), Andaman and Nicobar (03), Chandigarh (89), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (83), Daman and Diu (33), Lakshdweep (0), Delhi (2044), Pondicherry (317), Azad Hind Fauj (INA) (22468).
Eligibility : The scheme specifies eligibility criteria of imprisonment/underground sufferings of at least six months, internment in homes/externment from districts for at least six months, confiscation of properties, permanent incapacitation, loss of job or suffering at least ten strokes of flogging, which a claimant should have undergone in connection with the national freedom struggle, subject to furnishing of the prescribed evidence through the state government concerned.
Dependents : Spouses (widows/widowers), unmarried and unemployed daughters (upto maximum three) and parents of deceased freedom fighters (as also martyrs) are eligible for grant of dependent family pension under the scheme.
The Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme has been liberalised from time to time. Under the scheme, pension is granted to ex-Andaman Political prisoners, freedom fighters and their dependents. This includes provision for payment of pension to freedom fighters under Goa liberation movement and those who participated in the struggle for merger of erstwhile Nizam State of Hyderabad with Union of India.
Facilities to Freedom Fighters :
· Free railway pass (Ist class/AC sleeper) for freedom fighter and widow/widower along with a companion for life.
· Free medical facilities in all Central Government hospitals and hospitals run by PSUs under the control of the Bureau of Public Enterprises. Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) Facilities have also been extended to freedom fighters and their dependents.
· Telephone connection, subject to feasibility, without installation charges and on payment of only half the rental.
· General pool residential accommodation (within the overall 5 per cent discretionary quota) to freedom fighters in Delhi.
· Widow/widower of the freedom fighters is also permitted to retain the accommodation for a period of six months after the death of the freedom fighter.
· Accommodation in the Freedom Fighters’ Home set up at New Delhi for freedom fighters who have no one to look after the.
In addition to the above facilities, ex-Andaman freedom fighters are also entitled to the following facilities :
· Free voyage facility for freedom fighter and widow, to visit Andaman and Nicobar Islands, once a year, along with a companion.
· Free air travel facility for freedom fighters, to visit Andaman and Nicobar Islands, once a year, along with a companion.
· All major facilities provided to freedom fighters are also extended to their widows/widowers.
A sum of Rs.550.05 crore has been earmarked for freedom fighters pension and other facilities in 2008-09. This amount was Rs.440.05 crore in 2007-08 and in revised budget for 2007-08 was increased to Rs.500.10 crore. For free railway passes Rs.35 crore has been kept for 2008-09 which was Rs.31 crore in the revised budget for 2007-08. The eligibility criterion for grant of pension on ground of jail suffering specifies a minimum period of six months which the freedom fighters should have undergone in connection with the freedom movement. However, as a special dispensation for women freedom fighters and for members of the scheduled castes/scheduled tribes, the minimum period has been kept at three months.
Eligible dependents or deceased freedom fighters for grant of dependent family pension are spouses (widow/widower) unmarried and unemployed daughters (upto three), mother and father. Hence, though sons have not been recognized as eligible dependents, unmarried and unemployed daughters have been extended this benefit.