Calcutta High Court: A Full Bench of the Court, comprising of Nishita Mhatre, Acting CJ, Tapabrata Chakraborty and Dipankar Datta, JJ., heard two appeals against an order passed by a learned Single Judge according to which a divorcee daughter of an employee of the Eastern Coalfields Ltd. (ECL), who died prior to retirement was not entitled to compassionate appointment or monetary compensation as per the National Coal Wages Agreement- IV (NCWA-IV) which did not list a divorced daughter as a dependent.
The question before the Bench was whether a divorced daughter would fall under the ambit of ‘dependents’ as were defined in the chapter “Social Security” in the NCWA-IV, who were entitled to employment or monetary compensation that is provided to a dependant of a worker who either dies while in service or who is permanently disabled rendering him unfit to continue service.
ECL contended that “the daughter ceases to be a member of the family of her father and upon her obtaining a decree for divorce, her status does not revert to that of an unmarried daughter so as to be considered a dependant of her father or mother”. Relying on definitions provided by different dictionaries, the Court observed that the primary definition of ‘unmarried’ is ‘never having been married’ but the flexible definition may be construed as ‘not having a spouse at the time in question’.
The Court held that “when ‘unmarried’ forms a qualification in the description of a person who may be considered for compassionate appointment/monetary compensation at a definite time or period… the meaning of ‘unmarried’ as ‘not married on the relevant date’ would be more appropriate than putting a constricted meaning on ‘unmarried’ as ‘never having been married’.” The Court also pointed out that dependency was a vital test to be fulfilled in order to be eligible for consideration for compassionate appointment. The Court observed that a widow remains to be part of her husband’s family even after the death of such husband, whereas upon the marriage being dissolved, the divorcee daughter does not continue to be a part of the family of her divorced husband and would continue to remain single unless she remarries.
In her concurring opinion, Tapabrata Chakraborty J. stated that “dependency has been made attributable to a class of direct dependants including an unmarried daughter. It has also been stated in the said clause that if no such direct dependant is available for employment then others mentioned in the said clause may be considered to be the dependants of the deceased.” [Putul Rabidas v. Eastern Coalfields Ltd., 2017 SCC OnLine Cal 13128, dated 13-09-2017]