Prolonged delay in claiming for compassionate appointment, disentitled heirs to discretionary relief

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In the Supreme Court’s recent judgment, the bench comprising Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Krishna Murari stated that a prolonged delay in claiming for compassionate appointment by the dependent of the deceased employee disentitled them to discretionary relief. The impugned judgment passed by the High Court of Calcutta was set aside by the bench of the Supreme Court that ordered to provide a compassionate appointment to the deceased employees of the local authorities. While giving the judgment the Court stated that “...the operation of policy/scheme for compassionate appointment os founded of immediacy. A sense of immediacy is called for not only in the manner in which the applications are processed by the concerned authorities but also in the conduct of the applicant pursuing his case, before the authorities and if needed before the Courts.” 

In the State of West Bengal vs Debabrata Tiwari & Ors. case, the present appeals were in concern to the claims of the Respondents-Writ Petitioners, who were heirs of employees of Burdwan, Ranaghat, and Habra Municipalities and died in harness for compassionate appointment to posts in the concerned municipalities. The writ petition was filed before the High Court seeking appointment on compassionate grounds under the relevant exempted category as the Director of Local Bodies or the Government of West Bengal did not take steps pursuant to the receipt of the list of candidates. The said Writ Petition was disposed of by an order with a direction to the Director of Local Bodies, Government of West Bengal to take a decision on the recommendation of the Chairman of the Municipality. The Director of Local Bodies, Government of West Bengal passed an Order wherein it was stated that the Director of Local Bodies had no authority to consider the appointments under compassionate grounds in Urban Local Bodies unless the policy in the matter was laid down by the State Government. Being aggrieved by the order passed by the Director of Local Bodies, Government of West Bengal, the writ petition was addressed which was dismissed by the learned Single Judge. The judge stated that “no relief could be granted to the Writ Petitioners, in the absence of a sanctioned scheme for compassionate appointment in respect of municipal employees.” 

The Division Bench of HC directed the Director of Local Bodies, Burdwan Municipality, and the concerned authority in Ranaghat and Habra Municipalities to consider the application made by the Writ Petitioners seeking appointment on compassionate grounds. The case was then presented before the SC. The bench highlighted that the main objective underlying a provision for the grant of compassionate employment was to enable the family of the deceased employee to tide over the sudden crisis due to the death of the bread-earner who left the family in penury and without any means of livelihood. SC also observed that “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.” Further, the top Court addressed that “a prolonged delay in approaching the High Court, may even be regarded as a waiver of a remedy, as discernible by the conduct of the Respondents-Writ Petitioners. Such a delay would disentitle the Respondents-Writ Petitioners to the discretionary relief. The conduct of the Respondents-Writ Petitioners cannot be said to be blameless in that they did not pursue their matter with sufficient diligence.” 

During the hearing, an important question “Whether there exists any scheme in the State of West Bengal, governing the compassionate appointment governing municipal employees dying in harness?” was answered by the Supreme Court. The bench stated that “...Applications for compassionate appointment are to be considered in light of the policy holding the field on the date on which the application is filed. Given that the Circular does not govern compassionate appointment to posts under local authorities, compassionate appointment cannot be granted to posts under local authorities. There was no policy existing to govern compassionate appointment to posts under local authorities in the State of West Bengal and hence, in the absence of such a policy, compassionate appointment cannot be granted.” The impugned judgment and common order of the High Court were set aside and the appeal was allowed.

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