DB directs enhancement of old age, widow pension

March 19:  Observing that responsible Government cannot shirk its responsibility and deny the rights to the citizens merely on the ground of financial constraints, Division Bench of State High Court comprising Chief Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar and Justice Tashi Rabstan has issued directions for enhancement of monthly pension of widows, old age and handicapped persons from Rs 500 to Rs 1000 with effect from April 1, 2016.
This landmark judgment of the State High Court will benefit 5.75 lakh populace of the Jammu and Kashmir, which was getting meager Rs 500 pension per month during the past more than 20 years. Though the departments of the State Government tried to create roadblock in the enhancement of the pension by making different excuses lastly of financial constraints in the suo-moto Public Interest Litigation, the High Court, while considering the pitiable condition of old aged pensioners, widows and handicapped persons, provided them justice by exercising the powers as enshrined in the numerous judgments of the Apex Court of the country.
This case was registered as suo-moto PIL on the basis of the note put up by the Registrar General on the basis of a communication from Justice Bansi Lal Bhat based on representation submitted by the Chairman, Jammu and Kashmir Disabled Welfare Association situated near Arya Samaj Mandir, Akhnoor seeking enhancement of pension in respect of handicapped persons/widows and old age persons.
In this PIL, Advocates Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed and Suraj Singh volunteered to act as amicus and argued on behalf of the J&K Disabled Welfare Association. It is pertinent to mention here that 422500 widows, old age and handicapped persons are getting pension under Integrated Social Security Scheme (ISSS) and 150448 persons are getting pension under National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP).
On February 23, 2016, the Finance Department in its status report had stated that enhancement of pension is a policy issue and the State Cabinet has yet not taken any decision. Moreover, no budgetary provision has been made for enhancing the pension and due to the poor financial condition of the State it is not possible to enhance the pension. This stand was again reiterated by the Finance Department on next date of hearing.
After hearing Advocates Sheikh Shakeel Ahmed and Suraj Singh for the PIL whereas Deputy AG Ranjit Singh Jamwal and Advocate M A Bhat appearing for the Social Welfare and Finance Departments, Division Bench observed, “we are constrained to consider pitiable condition of the old aged pensioners, widow pensioners and handicapped pensioners, who are given Rs 500 per month as pension by way of social assistance from 1994 and 1995 respectively”.
“The said sum of Rs 500 was fixed more than 20 years back. The money value got diminished considerably during the period of these 20 years. In other States the minimum pension was increased to Rs 1000 per month and the same is not disputed”, the DB said, adding “the Social Welfare Department, which is looking after the social security schemes of the marginalized section of persons, has already recommended for increase of the pension to Rs 1,000  per month and submitted the proposal to the Planning and Development Department as early as on 02.05.2014 and prayed for concurrence of the Planning and Development Department/ Finance Department”.
The proposal was kept pending and was not considered in the budget for the year 2015-16. Even in the budgetary provisions for the year 2016-17 no steps have been taken for allocation of funds for enhancing the pension to the really deserving persons, namely widows, old aged persons, handicapped persons with more than 60% disability, the DB said.
The DB also referred to the judgment of Supreme Court, which states that when the executive is remiss in discharging its obligations under the Constitution or the law and the poor and the underprivileged continue to be subjected to exploitation and injustice, the court certainly can and must intervene and compel the executive to carry out its constitutional and legal obligations.
“It is not in dispute that a welfare state is bound to consider welfare of the poor and deserving, who are unable to earn their livelihood for their decent living. The right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides for life with minimum decency like food, shelter, health and other minimum amenities of life. By paying a petty amount of Rs 500 per month one cannot live a decent life and bearing in mind the guaranteed right to the marginalized section of the society who are unable to sustain themselves and are already identified by the Social Welfare Department are to be given enhanced pension as compared to the price index”, the DB observed.
“The only reason stated by the Finance Department is the financial difficulty faced by the State. It is a settled principle of law that for raising of funds for ensuring free education, speedy justice, health care facilities and clean environment, which are guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it is a duty of the authorities running the administration to mobilize the funds and the responsible Government cannot shirk its responsibility and deny the rights to the citizens merely on the ground of financial constraints”, the DB said.
With these observations, the DB held the pensioners, who are getting Rs 500 per month under ISSS and NASP, entitled to get Rs 1000 per month at least from April 1, 2016. The DB directed the respondents to implement the direction from April 1, 2016 and orders to that effect shall be passed within a period of four weeks.
“In case any of the beneficiary is not receiving the amount of pension from the respondents, they are at liberty to approach the District Legal Services Authority/Tehsil Legal Service Authority, which on receipt of such application/request from the beneficiary shall take up the matter with the concerned authorities of the Government and ensure that pensioner(s) receives pension in time”, the DB made it clear.

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