Compassionate Appointment| Applicability of Scheme in force on date of employee’s death OR date of consideration of the application? SC resolves the conflict 

Supreme Court: Clearing the air over the applicability of a new or modified Compassionate Appointment Scheme that comes into force after the death of the employee, the bench of Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian*, JJ the interpretation as to the applicability of a modified Scheme should depend only upon a determinate and fixed criteria such as the date of death and not an indeterminate and variable factor such as the date of consideration of the application of the dependant.

Factual Background

The sister of the respondent died as an unmarried female Government servant on 8.12.2010.

The appointment on compassionate grounds in the State of Karnataka is governed by a set of Rules known as Karnataka Civil Services (Appointment on Compassionate grounds) Rules, 1996, issued in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3(1) read with Section 8 of the Karnataka State Civil Services Act, 1978.

The Rules as they stood, on the date on which the sister of the respondent died in harness, did not include an unmarried brother, within the definition of the expression “dependant of a deceased Government servant” under Rule 2(1)(a) of the said Rules  vis¬a-vis  a deceased female unmarried Government servant.

It was only by way of way of a draft notification on 20.06.2012 that an unmarried brother of a deceased female unmarried Government servant was included within the definition. The final notification was issued on 11.07.2012.

While the competent authority rejected the respondent’s claim for compassionate appointment, the Karnataka State Administrative Tribunal allowed the application on the ground that the amendment   made to the Rules on 20.06.2012 would apply retrospectively covering the case of the respondent, though his sister died in harness on 8.12.2010. The said order was affirmed by the High Court.

Analysis

The Court analysed various judgments where the applicability of a new or modified Scheme that comes into force after the death of the employee was interpreted. It noticed that in cases where the benefit under the existing Scheme was taken away or substituted with a lesser benefit, the Supreme Court directed the application of the new Scheme. But in cases where the benefits under an existing Scheme were enlarged by a modified Scheme after the death of the employee, the Court applied only the Scheme that was in force on the date of death of the employee. This was fundamentally due to the fact that compassionate appointment was always considered to be an exception to the normal method of recruitment and perhaps looked down upon with lesser compassion for the individual and greater concern for the rule of law.

“Though there is a conflict as to whether the Scheme in force on the date of death of the employee would apply or the Scheme in force on the date of consideration of the application of appointment on compassionate grounds would apply, there is certainly no conflict about the underlying concern reflected in the above decisions. Wherever the modified Schemes diluted the existing benefits, this Court applied those benefits, but wherever the modified Scheme granted larger benefits, the old Scheme was made applicable.”

The Court noticed that the conflict of opinion in all the cases revolved around two dates, namely,

  1. date of death of the employee; and
  2. date of consideration of the application of the dependant.

Out of these two dates, only one, namely, the date of death alone is a fixed factor that does not change. The next date namely the date of consideration of the claim, is something that depends upon many variables such as the date of filing of application, the date of attaining of majority of the claimant and the date on which the file is put up to the competent authority.

“There is no principle of statutory interpretation which permits a decision on the applicability of a rule, to be based upon an indeterminate or variable factor.”

To put things not perspective, the Court explained by way of a hypothetical case where 2 Government servants die in harness on January 01, 2020.

“Let us assume that the dependants of these 2 deceased   Government servants make applications for appointment on 2 different dates say 29.05.2020 and 02.06.2020 and a modified Scheme comes into force on June 01, 2020. If the date of consideration of the claim is taken to be the criteria for determining whether the modified Scheme applies or not, it will lead to two different results, one in respect of the person who made the application before June 1, 2020 and another in respect of the person who applied after June 01, 2020.”

Hence, if two employees die on the same date and the dependants of those employees apply on two different dates, one before the modified Scheme comes into force and another thereafter, they will come in for differential treatment if the date of application and the date of consideration of the same are taken to be the deciding factor.

“A rule of interpretation which produces different results, depending upon what the individuals do or do not do, is inconceivable.”

It was, hence, held that the interpretation as to the applicability of a modified Scheme should depend only upon a determinate and fixed criteria such as the date of death and not an indeterminate and variable factor.

Ruling

Since, in the case at hand, the employee had died on 8.12.2010 and the amendment to the Rules was proposed by way of a draft notification on 20.06.2012, the Court noticed that merely because the application for appointment was taken up for consideration after the issue of the amendment, the respondent could not have sought the benefit of the amendment.

[Secretary to Govt. Department of Education (Primary) v. Bheemesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1264, decided on 16.12.2021]


Counsels

For appellants: Advocate V. N. Raghupathy

For respondent: Senior Advocate Jayanth Muthraj


*Judgment by: Justice V. Ramasubramanian

Know Thy Judge | Justice V. Ramasubramanian

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