Status as on- 23/03/2023
The Supreme Court, in its judgment on 3rd March 2023, has held that compassionate appointments are not a vested right and a claim for a compassionate appointment cannot be entertained after a lapse of a considerable period of time since the death of the concerned individual.
In this regard, it is worth examining the practice of compassionate appointments. These are appointments that are made by the government on sentimental grounds in the aftermath of a public tragedy befalling a family. For instance, family members of the victims of a lynch mob, bridge collapse, bus accident, etc are compensated in kind by the authorities to provide stability to the bereaved families rocked by a sudden loss.
At the time these appointments are made, they enjoy a degree of societal approval as they are seen as a gesture of social support to the family. However, the aforementioned Supreme Court judgment lays down certain principles that ought to be taken into account while making compassionate appointments.
The Supreme Court opined that a compassionate appointment is a departure from the general procedure. This is significant, especially in the background of several delays and irregularities in the usual process of recruitment exams seen in several States in contemporary times. If compassionate appointments are made a common feature, bypassing the regular process to which other aspirants are subject, this would be a recipe for heightened public disapproval in the long run.
An important distinction was also made by the apex court to the effect that compassionate appointments are not a source of recruitment, but a source of livelihood. This draws from the Directive Principles of State Policy, in particular Article 39(a), which exhorts the State to ensure adequate means of livelihood for all citizens.
Hence, compassionate appointments in such a context ought to be seen as a stop-gap arrangement to allow a bereaved family to tide over challenging circumstances, and not a vested right that can be exercised in the future. Moreover, even timebound contractual appointments shall suffice for the limited purpose of economic succor.
Finally, the Supreme Court also laid down certainly reasonable grounds for a determination as to whether or not the family is facing a financial crisis, listing out factors such as family income, dependency, and marital status of family members, as well as existing financial liabilities. Such a dilation of criteria, however, would be difficult to implement given that there would be a great discrepancy, as to which of the existing benchmarks are to be used among those such as the Below Poverty Line, and Economically Weaker Sections, among others. Furthermore, such ambiguity is likely to be exploited to serve political ends.
In conclusion, it can be said that while the intent behind making compassionate appointments is honorable, its implementation is bound to lead to dissatisfaction and heartburn among several sections. Bereaved families, hence, should be given support through more direct means, be it preventive such as state-sponsored life insurance, or curative such as direct benefit transfer to families upon the death of the sole earning member.
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