Courts Cannot Alter Scheme Terms for Compassionate Appointment: Supreme Court Reiterates
The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the appellant Bank, overturning the judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a case involving the respondent's request for a declaration and mandatory injunction regarding their appointment in the appellant Bank on compassionate grounds.
The Supreme Court held that the High Court erred in favouring the respondent on questions of law and, as a result, set aside the judgment of the First Appellate Court and reinstated the judgment of the Trial Court.
Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Manoj Misra of the Division Bench emphasised that the High Court should have considered the factual details instead of solely relying on legal precedents when addressing the questions of law in the case.
Upon examining the matter, the Bench focused on the issue of considering the financial position of the respondent concerning eligibility for compassionate appointment. It reviewed the relevant clauses of the Scheme and examined the details provided regarding the income of the deceased employee and his dependents. It was found that the widow of the deceased had a monthly income of ₹6,845, including her employment income and family pension. Taking into account the total income of ₹10,323 gross and ₹7,618 net per month, the Court applied the relevant formula and concluded that the monthly income of the respondent exceeded 60 per cent of the total emoluments. Therefore, the respondent's case could not be considered for compassionate appointment on that basis. The total emoluments of the deceased father were ₹3,210 per month, which was lower than the total net income of the deceased's family. Thus, the family's income was not less than 60 per cent of the total emoluments earned by the deceased at the time of his death, as specified in the Scheme.
The Bench acknowledged the respondent's argument that he was eligible for the position of Peon as he had completed the 8th standard during his father's lifetime, making him eligible at the time of his application. However, the Court concluded that this argument did not assist the respondent since he did not qualify or meet the eligibility criteria for the compassionate appointment based on his family's income.
The High Court had overturned the decision of the First Appellate Court in a Civil Appeal and reinstated the judgment of the Trial Court in the original suit. The case pertained to the respondent whose father, an employee of the appellant-Bank, had passed away while in service on May 16, 1999. At that time, the appellant-Bank had a compassionate appointment scheme in effect for the dependents of deceased employees, which had been issued on August 18, 1998.
According to the Bench, the appointment on compassionate grounds did not confer any vested rights upon a candidate. It was only when a candidate fulfilled all the criteria specified in the applicable scheme at the relevant time that they could be considered for a compassionate appointment.
The Court referred to the case of Balbir Kaur v. Steel Authority of India Ltd and distinguished it from the present case. It noted that the 1998 Scheme explicitly stated that a candidate would not be eligible for compassionate appointment if their monthly income was less than 60 per cent of the total emoluments the deceased employee was receiving at the time of their death. The objective of this provision was to ensure that compassionate appointments were only granted to families in dire financial need, without any other means of livelihood, upon the death of the employee.
The Court emphasised that compassionate appointments were exceptions to the general rule of open invitations for appointments and should only be considered when the candidate and their family were in a state of financial destitution. Therefore, the eligibility for compassionate appointment had to be determined under the prevailing Scheme.
The Court referred to the case of State of Himachal Pradesh v. Parkash Chand, where it was explicitly stated that a High Court's directive to consider compassionate appointments outside the terms of the policy was impermissible. Such an act would essentially involve rewriting the policy's terms, which was not within the court's jurisdiction. The Court noted that the High Court in the present case had overlooked this aspect and had disregarded the clear guidelines outlined in the policy for compassionate appointments.
Additionally, the bench referred to the case of Indian Bank v. Promila, where it was observed that eligibility for compassionate appointment should adhere to the provisions of the applicable scheme. The Court highlighted that it was not within the purview of the judiciary to substitute, alter, or modify a scheme or its terms through judicial review.
The Bench clarified that both the educational qualification and the income qualification of the candidate seeking compassionate appointment were stipulated in the applicable Scheme, which was dated September 18, 1998, and issued through a Circular. The Court pointed out that it was undisputed between the parties that this Scheme governed the respondent's case, and it mandated the employer to consider both qualifications while evaluating the application for compassionate appointment.
The Bench observed that the Punjab and Haryana High Court had erred in its reasoning on two aspects related to the consideration of the appellant's case for compassionate employment. Firstly, the High Court had wrongly determined the effective date for considering the application, stating it to be the date of the respondent's father's death. Secondly, the High Court had incorrectly concluded that the 1998 Scheme was applicable based on the date of the respondent's father's death. The Court found these errors in the High Court's analysis while addressing the questions of law in the case.