Compassionate Appointment : Applications for compassionate appointment should be processed without delay Supreme Court Order

The Supreme Court last week expressed concerns over the apparent uncertainty and delay involved in the implementation of compassionate appointment schemes by the West Bengal government [State of West Bengal vs Debabrata Tiwari and ors].

A bench of Justices Krishna Murari and BV Nagarathna observed that such a state of affairs may have ultimately prejudiced families of several government employees dying in harness.

The Court sounded a strong word of reproach against the West Bengal government authorities about the manner in which applications for compassionate appointment by hundreds of dependents were dealt with.
Compassionate Appointment
"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," the Court added.

The Court further remarked that such delays would frustrate the object of such schemes and called on the authorities to deal with claims for compassionate appointment with a sense of immediacy.

"Delay on the part of the authorities of the State to decide claims for compassionate appointment would no doubt frustrate the very object of a scheme of compassionate appointment. Government officials are to act with a sense of utmost proactiveness and immediacy while deciding claims of compassionate appointment so as to ensure that the wholesome object of such a scheme is fulfilled," the Court said.

These observations came in a case involving applications made to the Burdwan, Ranaghat and Habra municipalities for employment on compassionate grounds.

The applicants were legal heirs of municipal employees who died while in service. Disputes emerged over whether the applicants could be considered for compassionate appointment and whether any government scheme supported their claims.

In 2019, a Calcutta High Court division bench ordered the municipal authorities to consider the applications. The division bench, thereby, set aside a single-judge order which had agreed with the authorities that no such scheme was applicable to urban local bodies.

The division bench, on the other hand, relied on circulars indicating that such schemes should be extended to municipality employees.

Aggrieved by the division bench order, the State authorities moved an appeal before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court noted that the applicants (respondents) had approached the High Court nearly ten years after filing their applications.

The State argued that at this belated stage, compassionate appointments sought would have no redeeming value. Such an appointment was a policy decision and cannot be claimed as a matter of right, the State's counsel added.

The respondents countered that in the absence of a specific scheme, the High Court was correct in granting the relief it did.

The Supreme Court observed that the appeal primarily concerned whether any scheme governing compassionate appointment for municipal employees dying in harness, existed in the State.

If it did exist, the next question before the Court was whether such relief can be granted after several years, in view of the object of such policies.

The Supreme Court proceeded to opine that with the passage of time, it was not a fit case to consider or entertain the claims.

"The sense of immediacy in the matter of compassionate appointment has been lost in the present case. This is attributable to the authorities of the Appellant-State as well as the Respondents-Writ Petitioners. Now, entertaining a claim which was made in 2005-2006, in the year 2023, would be of no avail, because admittedly, the Respondents-Writ Petitioners have been able to eke out a living even though they did not successfully get appointed to the services of the Municipality on compassionate grounds," the Court explained.

The Court further observed that there existed no policy for compassionate appointments for family members of employees in municipal bodies of West Bengal.

Hence, the Court concluded that compassionate appointment sought for cannot be granted, in the absence of any policy for the same.
" ... existence of a policy issued by the State Government is a sine qua non for making appointments on compassionate basis ... The appointments must follow the stipulations made in the policy. It is therefore a no-brainer that in the absence of a policy governing compassionate appointment to posts under a local authority, no appointment could be made to such an authority on compassionate grounds," the Court said.
The appeal was, therefore, allowed. The order of the single-judge of the High Court was restored, and the division bench's ruling was set aside.

Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi with advocate Madhumita Bhattacharjee represented the State of West Bengal. Advocate Indradeep Pal appeared for the respondents.

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