bombay high court

Bombay High Court: A petition was filed by the first wife of the deceased freedom fighter seeking the continuation of the pension of her deceased husband after the death of his second wife. A division bench of Ravindra Ghuge and Y G Khobragade, JJ., directed the respondents to ensure that the regular monthly pension shall be paid to the petitioner from the month of September, 2023 onwards on the normal date of depositing the pension amount in the bank account of the Petitioner considering that she is the legally wedded wife of the deceased freedom fighter and thus, entitled to pension rightfully.

The husband of the petitioner, Bhagwan Sukdev Ajbe was a freedom fighter who was receiving a freedom fighter pension, from the Government of India. After his demise, the second wife Rukminbai was being paid a pension as the husband nominated her name in the official papers, however, she also died on 17-06-2018. Before the demise of Rukminibai, Somitrabai preferred a petition seeking a declaration from the Civil Court that she is the first wife, which was thereby decreed in her favour. The present petitioner is the first wife and as such, the legally wedded wife, yet Rukhminibai was receiving the pension until her death on 17-06-2018.

The grievance of the Petitioner arose after the death of Rukhminibai as the payment of the freedom fighter’s pension was stopped by the State Government as well as the Central Government since it was informed that Rukhminibai has passed away.

On the submission made by the Under Secretary, Govt. of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Freedom Fighters and Rehabilitation Division(FFRD) in the affidavit, that this petition should be dismissed as it is premature, the Court noted that the petitioner is 86 years old and terming the present petition as a premature petition indicates insensitiveness on the part of such a high-ranking officer.

The Court further noted that the documents placed before them indicated that the original PPO was forwarded to the FFRD, after the second wife of the freedom fighter passed away and it came to light that the petitioner is the first wife and is legally entitled for the pension.

The Court observed that in the peculiar set of facts and circumstances, the scope of the writ of mandamus is to ensure that justice is done, and the Writ of this Court reaches the doorstep of a litigant who has exhausted all the remedies as possible/permissible and yet his/her grievance is not redressed. The purpose of the writ of mandamus would be frustrated if in such cases the Court does not consider the grievance considering that the Petitioner has a legal right, and the respondents are practically tiring out the petitioner by making her suffer the rigours of tardy litigation.

The Court also noted that in the instant case, the deceased second wife preferred a petition to challenge the judgment in favour of the petitioner declaring her as the legally wedded wife, which was dismissed as abated on 30-08-2018. However, as Rukhminibai has already passed away, it would be impossible to issue any direction for recovery of the pension paid to her and even the advocate for the petitioner submitted that the petitioner is not interested in recovery of the amount of pension paid to the deceased Rukhminibai. Her immediate worry is the commencement of the pension from the date on which Rukminibai passed away since, by that time, the Civil Court had already delivered it’s judgment holding that the petitioner is the legally wedded wife (first wife).

The Court concluded that the Petitioner is legally entitled for the freedom fighter’s pension extended by the State as well as the Central Government. Her entitlement, notwithstanding the peculiar facts of the case, would commence from the date of death of Rukhminibai which is 17-06-2018.

Thus, the Court directed respondent 1 and 2 to ensure that the arrears of pension payable to the petitioner from the date of demise of Rukhminibai, in continuation as the nominee of the late Bhagwanrao, till 31-08-2023, shall be paid within a period of 90 days.

[Somitrabai v. Union of India, 2023 SCC OnLine Bom 1591, decided on 28-07-2023]

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Advocate for Petitioner : Mr. Nagargoje Ankush Nivrutti;

AGP for Respondents/State : Mr. P.K. Lakhotiya;

Advocate for R/1 : Mr. R.B. Bhosale;

Advocate for R/6 : Mr. A.V. Rakh;

Advocate for R/7 : Mr. R.R. Bangar.

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