“The majesty of death is that it is a great leveller for it makes no distinction between the young and the old or the rich and the poor,” the Supreme Court has said as it exhorted government officials to act with a sense of “utmost proactiveness” while deciding claims for job on compassionate ground.
The top court said the object of a provision for grant of compassionate employment is to enable the family of the deceased employee to tide over the sudden crisis due to the death of the bread-earner which left the family in penury and without any means of livelihood.
A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and BV Nagarathna allowed the appeal of the West Bengal government against a verdict of the Calcutta High Court, which had ordered grant of compassionate appointment to family members of municipal corporation employees who died in harness.
The apex court said there was no existing policy to govern compassionate appointment under local authorities in the state.
It said even if it was assumed that there existed such a policy, it would be of no redeeming purpose to direct that the applications for appointment on compassionate grounds be considered and decided several years after they were filed.
The top court noted the applications for compassionate appointment were filed by the legal heirs of deceased employees in three municipal corporations-Burdwan, Ranaghat and Habra in 2005-2006 and nearly 17-18 years have passed since then.
The bench said, “The majesty of death is that it is a great leveller for it makes no distinction between the young and the old or the rich and the poor. Death being a consequence of birth at some point of time is inevitable for every being. Thus, while death is certain, its timing is uncertain.
“Further, a deceased employee does not always leave behind valuable assets; he may at times leave behind poverty to be faced by the immediate members of his family.”
It asked what should be done to ensure that the death of an individual does not mean economic death for his family.
“The State’s obligation in this regard, confined to its employees who die in harness, has given rise to schemes and rules providing for compassionate appointment of an eligible member of his family as an instance of providing immediate succour to such a family. Support for such a provision has been derived from the provisions of Part IV of the Constitution of India, that is Article 39 of the Directive Principles of State Policy,” the bench said.
Referring to the object of the scheme, the bench said it would be of no avail to grant compassionate appointment to the dependants of a deceased employee after the crisis, which arose on account of death of a bread-winner, has been overcome.
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“Thus, there is also a compelling need to act with a sense of immediacy in matters concerning compassionate appointment because on failure to do so, the object of the scheme of compassionate appointment would be frustrated,” it said.
Justice Nagarathna, who penned the verdict on behalf of the bench, said where a long lapse of time has occurred since the date of death of the employee, the sense of immediacy for seeking compassionate appointment would cease to exist and lose its significance.
This, she said, would be a relevant circumstance which must weigh with the authorities in determining as to whether a case for grant of compassionate appointment has been made out for consideration.
She said the consideration which is absolutely necessary for entertaining a claim for compassionate appointment is that the family of the deceased employee would be unable to make two ends meet without one of the dependants of such employee being employed on compassionate grounds.
“The financial condition of the family of the deceased, at the time of the death of the deceased, is the primary consideration that ought to guide the authorities’ decision in the matter,” she said.
“Government officials are to act with a sense of utmost pro-activeness and immediacy while deciding claims of compassionate appointment so as to ensure that the wholesome object of such a scheme is fulfilled,” the apex court said.
It said it must sound a strong word of reproach directed at the authorities of the State about the manner in which the applications for compassionate appointment of hundreds of dependents have been dealt with.
“Much uncertainty looms around the scope, extent and beneficiaries of the various schemes formulated by the State for governing compassionate appointment and therefore, the concerned authorities are unable/unwilling to positively decide claims for compassionate appointment. This may have ultimately resulted in prejudice to the families of many government employees dying in harness,” it said.
The Calcutta High Court had on September 30, 2019 passed a common verdict on multiple pleas and ordered the Director of Local Bodies, Burdwan Municipality and the authorities concerned in Ranaghat and Habra Municipalities to consider the applications of the legal heirs of deceased employees seeking appointment on compassionate grounds.