The Andhra Pradesh High Court on September 8 made important observations on social security spending while hearing two pleas challenging the Andhra Pradesh Government’s halt of pension payments to single women, the widowed, and the elderly, Bar and Bench reported.
The first petition was regarding the arbitrary stoppage of pension payments by the Andhra government for single and widowed women from families below the poverty line. Their pensions were discontinued after political interference. The State said that there was no official record of single or widowed status and hence argued they were not actually widowed or unmarried. The pensions were stopped for 170 such women.
Justice Battu Devanand in response to this argument said that no married woman would misrepresent herself as unmarried for financial aid unless dire financial circumstances forced her to take such a step since marriages held great sanctity in Indian culture and married women were accorded a certain level of dignity and respect in society.
The second petition was regarding the stoppage of pensions of five senior citizens, who belonged to families below the poverty line. Their old-age benefits were stopped, according to the State government, because some of their children were salaried government employees and others owned pieces of land.
Ordering the unpaid dues of the petitioners to be disbursed, the Andhra HC stressed on the need for the Government to deal with such issues with sensitivity and a ‘human touch’. Justice Devanand said,
“it has to be noted that the government is the trustee of the public money. The government is empowered to utilize the public money in a proper manner for the benefit of the public at large. The government is not supposed to spend public money as per their whims and fancies as this public money is accrued from the payment of the taxpayers. This public money is the property of every citizen.”
He also emphasized that the modern welfare state had to act for the public good, and could not give or withhold largess in its arbitrary discretion. Especially as the State government was continuing to spend crores of public money for different activities in the state, especially for religious events. Justice Devanand said,
“This Court is of the opinion that while spending crores of rupees of public money for all the programmes as stated above, it is unreasonable to stop payment of meager amount being paid towards social security pension in favour of the petitioners…”
The HC also directed that beneficiaries whose benefits were canceled by the government should be allowed to defend their claims before the Gram Sabha in the future.