Patna: In Independent India`s 68th year, Bihar has a staggering 23,000 freedom fighters or their dependents who get pensions from the government, an RTI query has revealed.
"As per 2012-13 figures, Bihar has over 23,000 freedom fighters, the highest in the country," rights activist Manohar Mishra, who filed the query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, told IANS.
What is even more intriguing is that there has been no change in the numbers in the last five years.
In 2012, the union home ministry had sought verification of the number of such pensioners. After that, the Bihar government had asked all the 38 district magistrates to send treasury-wise details of pension payment order numbers."With no updating of records, there is every possibility of inflated figures of people receiving pension," a state government official said.
Freedom fighters get a monthly pension of Rs.15,000 and other perks from the centre in addition to state government help. The Bihar government provides them a pension of Rs 2,000 per month. Apart from this, a freedom fighter is entitled to a railway pass for unlimited travel to any place in India.
Interestingly.the home ministry has informed Mishra in its reply that it does not have records for many of freedom fighters who may have qualified for the status by default.
Mishra had sought detailed information on each freedom fighter`s role in the Independence movement along with the details of dates of their association and attested photocopies of the supporting documents submitted by them as on evidence of their active role in freedom struggle.
A state home department official said the verification of freedom fighters has not been completed.
According to the state government official, the home ministry also found that the number of dependents surpassed the actual number of freedom fighters.
In early 2000, a large number of people falsely claiming to be freedom fighters were found in Bihar following an inquiry conducted by official agencies.
The Swatantra Senani Samman Yojna was launched by then prime minister Indira Gandhi in the early 1970s to honour the freedom fighters and provide them pension in recognition of the services rendered by them during the struggle for Independence.
The central government spent Rs 772.85 crore ($127 million) on pension to freedom fighters and their eligible dependents in fiscal 2012-13 under various schemes in the country.
Home ministry figures show that 171,520 freedom fighters or their dependents receive pensions.