NEW DELHI - Expressing its concern that while the government was spending public money to give pension to freedom fighters it did not have a comprehensive list of Indian martyrs, the Central Information Commission has asked the home ministry to draw up a list in six months.
“We have noted with some concern that although public money is indeed being expended on pensions for freedom fighters, the Government of India, through various departments, does not seem to have a comprehensive list either of the martyrs or of the pensioners despite the fact there is a full division of the ministry of home affairs attending to the issue of freedom fighters’ pension,” observed Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah while hearing a complaint of a RTI applicant.
The decision came on the complaint filed by Panna Lal who had asked the home ministry about the actual figure of Indian martyrs.
“The response of CPIOs (Central Public Information Officers) is in keeping with the RTI Act 2005 in that they have provided the information held by the public authorities, however incomplete. The initiative of MHA in now compiling and consolidating such a list is therefore commendable, but it is necessary that this process be expedited,” Habibullah noted in his order.
“The MHA is, therefore, advised under the authority vested in this Commission, to complete the compilation of this information within six months of the date of receipt of this decision notice,” the CIC decision read.
The CIC also directed the ministry to upload names of 100 pensioners per day.
“In the meantime, as the list continues to be compiled, the information so obtained may be continually updated onto the website @ 100 pensioners per day,” it said.
It said a copy of the order would be placed before Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
It also said that after the list is published, it should be made available at every district headquarter.
During a hearing June 4, Panna Lal told the CIC that he has acquired and examined the three volumes of “Who’s Who of Indian Martyrs” and found that it lists only around 8,000.
“However, there have been newspaper reports indicating 6.5 lakh beneficiaries, which would indicate that the Freedom Fighters Pension has been widely abused,” he submitted.
In reply, R.C. Nayak, deputy secretary in the home ministry, said that although there were nearly 700,000 applications for such pension, sanction has been given only in 170,000 cases.
He however admitted that there was no consolidated list of freedom fighters and this was now being compiled. He said about 20,000 names had been compiled so far.
Ghulam Mustafa, under secretary in the ministry of culture, said that ICHR has been given the responsibility of compiling a list of all martyrs in the freedom movement and the list was also under process.
Panna Lal argued that “many of those benefitting from the Freedom Fighters Pension were those who had collaborated with the British”.