IN THE HIGH COURT AT CALCUTTA
CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
The Hon’ble the Acting Chief Justice,
The Hon’ble Justice Dipankar Datta
The Hon’ble Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty
F.M.A. 4401 of 2016
Eastern Coalfields Ltd. ors.
F.M.A. 4403 of 2016
Union of India ors.
For the appellant in : Mr. Siddhartha Banerjee,
FMA 4401 of 2016 Mr. Piyush Biswas,
Mr. Chiranjib Sinha,
Ms. Suchitra Sinha Chatterjee.
For the appellant in : Mr. Soumyen Datta,
FMA 4403 of 2016 Mr. Pinaki Brata Ghosh,
Ms. Susmita Mazumdar.
For the : Mr. Anubhav Sinha,
Eastern Coalfields Ltd. Ms. Sanchita Barman Roy.
Hearing concluded on: July 20, 2017
Judgment on: September 13, 2017
DIPANKAR DATTA, J.:- (for the Hon’ble the Acting Chief Justice and himself)
1. M.A.T. 1299 of 2016, since renumbered F.M.A. 4401 of 2016, is directed against
the judgment and order dated May 18, 2016 passed by a learned Judge of this
Court (hereafter the said judgment). W.P. 4290(W) of 2016 (Smt. Putul Rabidas v.
The Eastern Coalfields Ltd.), presented by the appellant, was dismissed thereby.
Noting that the point involved in W.P. 25878(W) of 2015 (Sefali Banerjee v. The
Union of India ors.) was covered by the said judgment, His Lordship dismissed
it too by an order dated June 9, 2016. Such order is impugned in M.A.T. 1279 of
2016, since renumbered F.M.A. 4403 of 2016.
2. It appears on a bare reading of the decisions under appeal that the learned
Judge refused relief to the appellants (Putul and Sefali) based on the specific
finding that a divorcee daughter of an employee of the Eastern Coalfields Ltd.
(hereafter ECL) dying-in-harness is not entitled to the benefit of compassionate
appointment/monetary compensation in terms of the National Coal Wages
Agreement-VI (hereafter the NCWA-VI).
3. By an order dated September 20, 2016, a Division Bench of this Court had
directed analogous hearing of these intra-Court appeals. Subsequently, the
appeals were mentioned by the learned advocates for the respective parties before
such Division Bench for hearing thereof along with F.M.A. 1277 of 2015 (State of
West Bengal ors. v. Purnima Das ors.). F.M.A. 1277 of 2015 had by then
been referred for decision to a larger Bench and this Bench had been constituted
therefor. In that appeal, the question whether a married daughter of a State
Government employee dying-in-harness is entitled to be considered for
compassionate appointment emerged for decision. These appeals having been
directed to be heard along with FMA 1277 of 2015 by an administrative order of
the Hon’ble the Acting Chief Justice dated June 6, 2017, the same were placed
before us for consideration and decision.
4. We have decided F.M.A. 1277 of 2015 (State of West Bengal ors. v. Purnima
Das ors.) today by a separate judgment and order, and these appeals shall be
decided by this common judgment and order.
5. The only common question that arises for decision on these appeals is, whether a
divorcee daughter could be considered as a dependent of a deceased worker in
terms of para 9.3.3 in Chapter IX of the NCWA-VI [a settlement within the
meaning of section 2(p) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947] and thus entitled to
be considered for compassionate appointment or monetary compensation, as the
case may be, which is envisaged therein.
6. It is not disputed before us that the claims for compassionate
appointment/monetary compensation to divorcee daughters of deceased workers
arising for consideration are required to be decided on the terms of NCWA-VI as it
is and, thus, the appellants would have to succeed on whatever the NCWA-VI
provides and not beyond.
7. Chapter IX of the NCWA-VI titled “Social Security” envisages benefits that the
employees covered thereby are entitled to. Inter alia, paras 9.3.0 and 9.4.0 and
its various sub-paras contain provisions relating to employment or monetary
compensation that could be given to a dependant of a worker who either dies
while in service or who is permanently disabled rendering him unfit to continue
service. Since we are not really concerned with a case where a worker due to
permanent disability had to leave service, we need not look into para 9.4.0 in any
great detail. However, para 9.3.0 being extremely relevant is required to be read
in full and, accordingly, is set out hereunder:
“9.3.0 Provision of Employment to Dependants
9.3.1 Employment would be provided to one dependant of
workers who are disabled permanently and also those
who die while in service. The provision will be
implemented as follows:-
9.3.2 Employment to one dependant of the worker who dies
while in service.
In so far as female dependants are concerned, their
employment/payment of monetary compensation would
be governed by para 9.5.0.
9.3.3 The dependant for this purpose means the wife/husband
as the case may be, unmarried daughter, son and legally
adopted son. If no such direct dependant is available for
employment, brother, widowed daughter/widowed
daughter-in-law or son-in-law residing with the deceased
and almost wholly dependant on the earnings of the
deceased may be considered to be the dependant of the
9.3.4 The dependants to be considered for employment should
be physically fit and suitable for employment and aged
not more than 35 years provided that the age limit in
case of employment of female spouse would be 45 years
as given in Clause 9.5.0. In so far as male spouse is
concerned, there would be no age limit regarding
provision of employment.”
8. Perusal of the aforesaid clauses reveals that so far as female dependants are
concerned, employment or payment of monetary compensation to them would be
governed by clause 9.5.0. We shall refer to clause 9.5.0 at a later stage of this
judgment after deciding as to whether the appellants were in law entitled to claim
benefits as envisaged in clause 9.3.0.
9. As a prologue to our decision, a brief recital of the facts giving rise to the writ
petitions, the submissions of the respective parties and what exactly the learned
Judge held while dismissing the writ petitions of Putul and Sefali would be in
10. The case pleaded in the writ petition by Putul is this. Putul’s mother, Geeta
Rabidas, was employed as an ‘ayah’ at Sanctoria Hospital under ECL since
September 11, 1975. Geeta passed away on December 14, 2011 while in service.
She left behind her, her husband and two married daughters. The husband
allegedly had deserted Geeta long back and Putul’s sister had been married and
leading a peaceful conjugal life at her matrimonial home. Putul was married on
June 6, 2000 and a male child was born in her wedlock with her husband.
However, the marriage was dissolved by a decree for divorce passed by the
competent court on August 4, 2009. Since such dissolution of marriage, Putul
and her minor son started residing with Geeta and were wholly dependent on the
earnings of Geeta for survival. While in service, Geeta had affirmed an affidavit
on September 28, 2008 wherein it was averred that Putul and her son were
entirely dependent on Geeta. A prayer was also made by Geeta to strike out,
inter alia, the names of her husband and other married daughter as dependants
and to include the names of Putul and her minor son as her only dependants.
Geeta had also nominated Putul to receive all benefits consequent upon her
(Geeta) death. Upon due consideration of the application of Geeta, the concerned
authority of ECL by an order dated June 24, 2010 was pleased to incorporate the
names of Putul and her minor son in the service book of Geeta as her only
dependants. After Geeta passed away, Putul applied for compassionate
appointment on February 21, 2012. Since no action was being taken on such
application, Putul had invoked the provisions of the Right to Information Act,
2005 and sought for legal opinion of the General Manager (Legal), Coal India
Limited, Kolkata on the proposal for her employment. In response to such
application, Putul was furnished office notes dated May 2, 2010 and June 5,
2010 whereby opinion had been expressed that Geeta’s prayer for incorporation
of the names of Putul and her minor child as dependants in the service book of
Geeta may be agreed to. However, the notes which were generated in May/June,
2010 obviously did not refer to the application for compassionate appointment
dated February 21, 2012, which was made by Putul after Geeta’s death in
December 2011. While considering the prayer of Geeta, the note dated May 2,
2010 proceeded to record, inter alia, as follows:
“If and when there arise any question of a entitlement of a dependent to get
some benefit, say employment the claimed entitlement has to be adjudged
against the parameters provided in the NCWA. In the instant case it is
premature to delve into the question.
However, for the sake of clarification it may be opined that a ‘divorced
daughter’ falls in the category of ‘unmarried daughter’ for the purpose of
employment of a dependent of the worker who dies while in
With a legally valid decree of divorce the subject woman is reverted back to
her spinster status for all practical purpose. She cannot be equated with a
widowed daughter. A widow retains all her rights in her dead husband’s
family/property while the divorce snaps all her connections thereto. The
divorced daughter comes in the category of first degree dependent like
spouse/son/adopted son/unmarried daughter.”
11. Since Putul was not being offered compassionate appointment, she had the
occasion to invoke the writ jurisdiction of this Court by presenting W.P. 6522(W)
of 2015. By an order dated March 25, 2015, the writ petition was disposed of
with a direction upon the General Manager (Personnel), ECL to consider Putul’s
application for compassionate appointment and to communicate a reasoned
decision with eight weeks. The General Manager (P IR), ECL by his order dated
May 29, 2015 declined the prayer of Putul for compassionate appointment.
Relevant portions of the order dated May 29, 2015 are quoted below:
“I have gone through the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court Order dated
25.03.2015, application of Putul Rabidas dated 21.02.2012, relevant
provisions of National Coal Wage Agreement (NCWA) and found that:
a) The petitioner does not fall under the different dependents mentioned
in the agreement who can be given employment on compassionate
b) The authorities of the coal companies are bound by such agreement
and has no right to outstep such stipulation.
c) Moreover as per Clause No. 13.3.0 of the NCWA-IX, it is clearly
‘The management of the Coal Companies on their part will not resort
to unilateral interpretations of the Agreement in case any doubt or
difficulty in interpretation or implementation of any clause of this
agreement, the same shall be referred to and settled by the JBCCI or
a Sub-Committee constituted by the JBCCI for the purpose in the
spirit of mutual goodwill’.
d) The petitioner has cited an earlier example where one divorcee daughter
got employment in similar situation in the respondent company about 9
years back. Though both the cases are relating to employment to
‘divorcee daughter’ but are not analogous as the earlier case (G.A. No.
1466 of 2006, APO No. 97 of 2006 arising out of W.P. No. 867 of 2005;
ECL Vs. Smt. Kisto Dasi ors.) relates to employment against
concerned employee being declared ‘medically unfit’ under clause 9.4.0
of NCWA-VI whereas the instant claim for compassionate employment
is against deceased employee.
It has been settled by Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in catena of
judgments that compassionate employment is not a vested right is
provided to mitigate the financial hardship caused to the distressed
family due to sudden loss of the sole bread earner of the family and can
be provided only upon fulfillment of eligibility criteria prescribed under
the scheme for compassionate employment.
In the case of Smt. Kisto Dasi, the Hon’ble High Court has considered
the case on the basis of economic condition and the respondent
company had consented to provide the employment before the Hon’ble
Court. In the instant case, after death of Late Geeta Rabidas, Putul
Rabidas was paid gratuity (Rs.5,58,475/-) and CMPF (Rs.14,67,479/-)
both amounting to Rs.20,25,954/-(Twenty lakhs twenty five thousand
nine hundred and fifty four).
In view of the above and in the absence of any mention of ‘divorcee
daughter’ among the eligible dependents in the enabling provision
under NCWA to get compassionate employment, I am unable to
consider the petitioner’s application dated 21.02.2012 for
12. The order dated May 29, 2015 was again challenged by Putul by filing a writ
petition, out of which FMA 4401 of 2016 arises. The learned Judge in the said
judgment noted the background facts leading to presentation of the writ petition.
Although in the impugned order dated May 29, 2015 the General Manager opined
that National Coal Wages Agreement-IX was the applicable agreement, ECL had
referred to NCWA-VI before His Lordship as the applicable agreement and such
stand was accepted. Several judgments cited by the rival parties were considered.
Reliance had, inter alia, been placed on behalf of Putul on the decision of a
learned Judge of this Court reported in 2006 (2) CLJ (Cal) 15 [Smt. Kisto Dasi v.
Coal India Limited ors.] and several other decisions that followed the decision
in Kisto Dasi (supra). On behalf of ECL, it was submitted before the learned
Judge that the decision in Kisto Dasi (supra) was carried in appeal by ECL by
presenting APO 97 of 2006 [Eastern Coalfields Limited v. Kisto Dasi] and that the
decision in Kisto Dasi (supra) had been set aside by the appellate judgment and
order dated October 26, 2006. The learned Judge in more than one paragraphs of
the said judgment referred to setting aside of the decision in Kisto Dasi (supra) by
the Division Bench of this Court and ultimately at paragraph 17 quoted only
paragraphs 3 to 5 of the appellate judgment in Eastern Coalfields Limited
(supra). His Lordship was, however, of the opinion that the appellate order dated
October 26, 2006 in Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra) holding that “the status of
a divorcee daughter would be that of an unmarried daughter” was “without any
discussion or reasons in support thereof” and having been “rendered in the context
of a claim by a dependent divorcee daughter of a coal miner”, it had to be seen
that “no further discussion on such aspect was necessary since the concerned coal
company agreed to offer the appointment to the divorcee daughter”. His Lordship
was also of the view that since the claim of Putul was founded on a contract or a
settlement and not on any statutory or administrative rules, the decisions of
diverse Benches of this Court interpreting the rules framed by the employer for
compassionate appointment were not applicable. Since a divorcee daughter had
not been included in the category of dependent in the relevant clauses of NCWA-
VI for compassionate appointment to be obtained by her, His Lordship was of the
further opinion that such exclusion “has to be seen as a conscious and deliberate
scheme of the settlement; no more and no less”. His Lordship perceived that “the
task in this extraordinary jurisdiction is to assess the propriety of the impugned
action by interpreting the clause in a negotiated settlement” and that such
“interpretation does not call for any element of tinkering with the terms of the
settlement on the basis of any misplaced sense of sympathy or from a pretentious
pulpit of morality”.
13. The case run by Sefali in her writ petition reveals that her father, Manik Ratan
Banerjee, was serving as a pump operator in Girimint Colliery under ECL. On
February 23, 2013 Manik had died-in-harness. He left behind him his widow, a
son and Sefali as his surviving heirs. Sefali had been married on June 6, 2003
but due to torture and mental agony inflicted on her at her matrimonial home,
she returned to her paternal home with her minor son and started living as a
dependent of Manik with effect from December 30, 2011. On the day Manik died,
Sefali and her son were entirely dependent on him (Manik). After Manik’s death,
Sefali and her husband filed an application for mutual divorce under section 13-
B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 before the competent court on October 3,
2013. The suit was decreed on December 19, 2014. Since the death of Manik had
put his family in severe financial distress, Sefali had applied on May 12, 2013 for
enlistment of her name in the ‘died-in-harness’ category together with no
objections from her mother and brother. Sefali was called upon to attend a
meeting on April 17, 2015, whereafter she was communicated an order dated
June 23, 2015 of the Senior Officer (PA), Bhanora/ Girimint (R) Colliery. Her
prayer for appointment on compassionate ground was rejected on the grounds
mentioned therein. The grounds for rejection, inter alia, were that there were
direct dependants of the deceased available for appointment under NCWA-VI,
there was absence of provisions for employment of a divorcee daughter and also
that the decree for divorce is a post-death document.
14. Sefali challenged the said order before the writ court. The learned Judge referring
to and/or relying on the said judgment delivered by His Lordship on the writ
petition of Putul dismissed Sefali’s writ petition by a short order.
15. Appearing on behalf of Putul, Mr. Banerjee, learned advocate contended that the
learned Judge ought to have granted relief to Putul having regard to the facts and
circumstances that were presented vis-à-vis the applicable law, in this case the
terms of the NCWA-VI. He contended that clause 9.3.3 carves out two distinct
categories of dependants. If a dependant of the nature mentioned in the first
category is not available, a dependant in the second category could be
considered. In other words, the first category is comprised of ‘direct dependants’
and the second category comprises dependants who could be termed ‘indirect
dependants’ on the terminology used in the relevant sub-clause. A widowed
daughter and a widowed daughter-in-law, according to him, are included in the
category of indirect dependants expressly whereas “unmarried daughter” is
included in the category of direct dependants. Heavily relying on the decision of
the Division Bench in Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra), he submitted that the
same operated as a binding precedent on the learned Judge and perhaps, by
mistake, His Lordship overlooked paragraph 2 thereof which provided the
reasons for the conclusion that an unmarried daughter, in clause 9.3.3, would
also include a divorcee daughter. Urging that jurisdiction had been erroneously
exercised by His Lordship, it was prayed that the said judgment be set aside
along with the order impugned in the writ petition and that ECL may be directed
to offer employment to Putul.
16. Mr. Dutta, learned advocate representing Sefali echoed the contentions advanced
by Mr. Banerjee and submitted that the order dismissing Sefali’s writ petition
being entirely based on the decision rendered on Putul’s writ petition, should the
judgment and order under challenge in Putul’s appeal be not upheld Sefali ought
to be directed to be treated at par with Putul and extended similar benefit of
17. Per contra, Mr. Sinha, learned advocate, appearing for ECL and its officers
resisted the contentions advanced on behalf of the appellants by repeating the
submissions that were made by him before His Lordship, which were ultimately
18. According to Mr. Sinha, upon a marriage being solemnised, 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. It is also contended that there is
a difference between an unmarried daughter and a divorcee daughter and a
divorcee daughter not having been included in NCWA-VI as one who may be
considered to be a dependant of a deceased worker, the concerned officers who
dealt with the applications for compassionate appointment of Purul and Sefali
were right in refusing their prayer.
19. The submissions which Mr. Sinha had advanced referring to other provisions
of law have been aptly summarised by the learned Judge in paragraph 33 of the
said judgment and we can do no better than extract the same for comprehending
the exact point sought to be canvassed by him. Paragraph 33 reads as follows:
“33. Though, strictly speaking, ECL may not be required to justify the
relevant clause in NCWA-VI, an erudite endeavour is made to demonstrate
why a divorcee daughter may have been excluded from the provision and
why the case of a divorcee daughter cannot be equated with that of an
unmarried daughter. Section 21 of the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance
Act, 1956 is first placed to demonstrate the classes of persons regarded as
dependants thereunder. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is next placed for
the distinction between a void marriage and a voidable marriage recognised
in Sections 11 and 12 thereof and the provision for dissolution of marriage
by a decree of divorce as provided in Section 13 thereof. Similar provisions
have been placed from the Indian Divorce Act, 1869 that applies to
Christians, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936 and the Special
Marriage Act, 1954. ECL also refers to the distinction between faskh and
talaq in the Muslim personal law. The submission is that upon the
daughter of a workman covered by the NCWA obtaining a decree for
divorce, her status does not revert to that of an unmarried daughter
dependent on the father or mother; that an intelligible differentiation is
possible between an unmarried daughter and a divorcee daughter; and,
such distinction must, per force, be discovered in the relevant clause. ECL
has also referred to the express inclusion of divorcee daughters in Rule 54
of the Central Civil Service (Pension) Rules, 1972 and in Section 14K of the
West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955 to submit that when a divorcee
daughter is provided for or included for the conferment of a benefit, there
would be a specific reference in such regard.”
20. In support of his submission that a daughter upon being married ceases to be a
member of the family of her father and that a married daughter is not entitled to
appointment on compassionate ground, several decisions (almost two dozen)
were cited by Mr. Sinha.
21. Mr. Sinha finally submitted that since there is no error in the decision making
process and exercise of jurisdiction by the learned Judge being appropriate, in
exercise of our appellate jurisdiction we ought to hold the appeals to be without
merit and dismiss the same.
22. The parties have been heard at length.
23. At the outset, we wish to place on record that the decisions cited by Mr. Sinha
need not be dealt with in detail since on perusal thereof we are of the considered
view that none of them has any direct bearing on the issue with which we are
24. On the contrary, based on our independent reading of para 9.3.0, with special
emphasis on clause 9.3.3, we are inclined to the opinion that indeed Putul, but
not Sefali, had set up a strong case for interference. We are also of the opinion
that, inter alia, the decisions of Division Benches of this Court, to which reference
shall be made hereafter, do provide ample guidance to us to tread the right track
of paving the way for termination of the long pending disputes between the
25. We agree with the learned Judge to the extent that in a given case a distinction
may be made between cases where rules framed by the employer are found to be
discriminatory and those cases which considered a clause in a settlement arrived
at between the employees and the public employer. That is precisely the reason
why no departure from whatever is provided in para 9.3.0 would be warranted.
Without any addition or subtraction, the various terms of the NCWA-VI have to
be read and the meaning of words used therein gathered from the context.
Additionally, since a settlement in view of Section 18 of the 1947 Act (which
obviously had duly been arrived at between the parties after protracted
deliberations) is binding on such parties, we may have to pin down all the parties
including ECL to the terms thereof.
26. Reading of the said judgment as well as Chapter IX of the NCWA – VI inclines
us to the view that a shift of perspective is what is called for on facts and in the
circumstances, as the woods might have been missed for the tree.
27. An unmarried daughter of a deceased worker, inter alia, would be considered
to be his/her dependent, being included in the first category of dependants, is
what the text of clause 9.3.3 provides. We need to understand the meaning of the
word ‘unmarried’ bearing in mind the resistance to the appellants’ claims offered
by ECL, which has contended that going by the text of NCWA-VI even a widowed
daughter is a dependent, included in the second category, but not a divorcee
daughter; and, she having been consciously excluded, is not entitled to be
included in either category of dependants.
28. Law seems to be well-settled that the duty of the court in interpreting or
construing a provision is to read the section, and understand its meaning in the
context. Interpretation of a provision or statute is not a mere exercise in
semantics but an attempt to find out the meaning of the legislation from the
words used, understand the context and the purpose of the expressions used and
then to construe the expressions sensibly. This is the view expressed by Hon’ble
Justice Sabyasachi Mukharji (as His Lordship then was) speaking for the
Supreme Court in its decision reported in (1984) 3 SCC 127 (Ajoy Kumar
Banerjee v. Union of India ors.).
29. We think that the guidance provided by the aforesaid statement of law in Ajoy
Kumar Banerjee (supra), albeit made in course of examining a statute, would be
relevant for construing the words “unmarried daughter” in clause 9.3.3. It ought
to be our primary duty to examine the problem not merely in semantics but in
the broader and more appropriate context of the object that Chapter IX of the
NCWA-VI seeks to achieve.
30. However, before we move on to the main issue, it needs to be clarified that unlike
schemes for compassionate appointment that normally come up for consideration
before courts of law, compassionate appointment/monetary compensation that is
envisaged in para 9.3.0 of Chapter IX is not dependent on the quantum of
financial benefits that might have accrued in favour of a worker on his death.
Para 9.3.0 or for that matter any other para/clause in Chapter IX does not make
receipt of a particular quantum of money by a dependant of a deceased worker
because of the latter’s death on account of death benefits a disqualification for
compassionate appointment/monetary compensation. In that view of the matter,
irrespective of the quantum of death benefits that a dependent might have
received owing to death of his/her father/mother/father-in-law/mother-in-
law/brother/sister, ECL cannot repudiate a claim for compassionate
appointment/monetary compensation on the ground that the family, having
received substantial death benefits, is not in need thereof. The terms of the
NCWA-VI are such that a dependent, if he/she satisfies all the conditions in
clauses 9.3.3 and 9.3.4, i.e. he/she is a dependent of a deceased worker and has
the requisite qualification for being given employment by ECL, is entitled to claim
as of right that he/she ought to be extended the benefit of compassionate
appointment or monetary compensation, as the case may be, under Chapter IX.
31. Adverting attention to the main issue, it is seen that the parties to the NCWA-VI
elected the English language to reduce in writing the terms of settlement arrived
at by and between them but did not define the word ‘unmarried’ therein.
Although ‘unmarried’ is a word which is often used by us in course of
conversation, wherever necessary, we need to brush up our understanding of
such word by looking into English dictionaries of some standing.
32. According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition, ‘unmarried’ is
an adjective meaning ‘not married; single’.
33. As per Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, “unmarried” means
‘not now or previously married’ or ‘being divorced or widowed’.
34. Section 18 of the 1947 Act gives statutory recognition to a bi-partite settlement.
Thus, the NCWA-VI partakes the character of a law; and, binds the parties
thereto. It is in this scenario that we may also look into Law
Dictionaries/Lexicons to trace the meaning of the word ‘unmarried’.
35. In Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary of Words and Phrases, 7th edition, the primary
meaning of ‘unmarried’ is ‘never having been married’ or ‘without ever having
been married’ and the secondary meaning is ‘having no spouse living at the
material time’. It is a word of flexible meaning, and slight circumstances could be
sufficient to give the word its secondary meaning.
36. Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th edition, says that the primary meaning of ‘unmarried’
is ‘never having been married’; but it is a word of flexible meaning and it may be
construed as ‘not having a husband or wife at the time in question; eg. widow or
widower or divorcee’.
37. Wharton’s Law Lexicon, 15th edition, also reveals that ‘unmarried’ is a term of
flexible meaning; prima facie it means ‘never having been married’, but the
context may show that it means ‘not having a husband or wife’.
38. There could hardly be and, in fact, there is no dichotomy of lexicographic opinion
that the word ‘unmarried’ does not only mean ‘never having been married’ but, if
the circumstances do permit and warrant, it may also mean ‘not married on the
39. We may at this juncture refer to two old decisions of this Court where the word
‘unmarried’, in the context of the enactments under consideration was construed,
~ in the first case, to include a ‘widow’ and in the subsequent case, to mean ‘not
40. A Division Bench of this Court in the decision reported in AIR 1933 Calcutta 358
(2) [Soleman Bibi v. E. I. Ry.] was considering a reference made under section 27
of the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 by the Commissioner for Bengal. The
question referred related to the meaning of the expression “unmarried daughter”
in section 2(1)(d) of the 1923 Act. The applicant before the Commissioner was the
daughter of the deceased workman. It was not in dispute that she was a widow
and was being maintained by her father during widowhood for about 8 years. At
the date of death of her father, the applicant was the only relative. The
Commissioner had been referred to the decision reported in AIR 1932 Lahore 1
[Moti Bai v. N.W. Ry.] in which it was held that the expression “unmarried sister”
included widowed sister. The Commissioner had certain doubts as to whether a
“widowed daughter” could be included within “unmarried daughter”, resulting in
the reference being made.
41. Referring to several dictionaries – Murray’s Dictionary, Johnson’s Dictionary and
some later ones – Hon’ble Justice Ameer Ali (as His Lordship then was) found the
meaning of “unmarried” as “not married” or “single” and another meaning as
“never having been married”. Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary, which was also
referred, revealed that there was a definite division into primary and secondary
meanings – the primary meaning being given as “never having been married”.
Thereafter, His Lordship upon consideration of various English decisions that
had been cited observed as follows:
“I would therefore prefer to state the result of the authorities as to the
meaning of the word as follows: (1) That the dictionary or grammatical
sense of the word is not married; (2) that the popular and more usual
sense is never having been married; (3) that the word is commonly used in
either sense and is therefore a ‘flexible’ or equivocal term; (4) that for this
reason the meaning must in all cases be discovered from the context; (5)
that in the case of deeds and wills where there is no context, where the
document is completely colourless, the popular sense will usually be
adopted. In other words I think it is putting it too high to say that in all
cases there is a primary meaning and a secondary meaning or that the first
is the rule and the second is the exception. With regard to the special rules
for the construction of Statutes one rule is that words may and normally
should be construed in their popular sense: see Maxwell, Edn. 7, p. 47.
There is however another rule that words should be construed so as to
advance the remedy provided by the Act: see p. 59 and the following. ……
With regard to the context of the word in the present case the view taken
by the Commissioner is expressed on the last page of the letter of reference
as follows in the following manner:
‘The words in the definition constitute an inclusive list of all the
nearer relatives; on marriage a daughter acquires a new relationship
* * * and I see nothing in the definition of dependants to warrant a
supposition that on the death of her husband she resumes the
The comment which occurs to me is as follows: a daughter undoubtedly
acquires a new relationship on marriage. She does not however lose the old
relationship; she remains a daughter. Once a daughter always a daughter:
qua relationship she is a daughter before, during and after marriage. On
the other hand the legislature has attached a qualification or condition that
in order to participate a female child must not only be a daughter, but she
must be an ‘unmarried’ daughter. The question is what is the meaning of
that qualification. Does it exclude daughters once, but no longer, married?
I think not. It appears to me that the important portion of the context to
read in connexion with the definition is the operative part of S. 8 which
provides for one payment to be distributed at a special time or period – the
death of the employee – among particular persons. According to the
English authorities and also I think in common conversation, when
‘unmarried’ forms a qualification in the description of a person who is to
receive a sum of money at a definite time or period, the meaning ‘not
married’ appears to be appropriate: see Leshingham Trust 24 Ch. D. 703
and Jarman on Wills in particular at p. 1252. For these reasons I agree
with the decision in 13 Lah 228 (1) and construe the expression ‘unmarried
aughter’ (sic daughter) in S. 2, 1(d) of the Act as including widowed
42. The aforesaid decision was noticed by another Division Bench of this Court in its
decision reported in AIR 1963 Calcutta 428 [Mina Rani Majumdar v. Dasarath
Majumdar]. The Division Bench was considering whether an application for
maintenance under section 25 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 was maintainable
despite a petition under section 13 of that Act claiming a decree of divorce had
been dismissed. While construing the word “unmarried” in section 25(1) of the
1955 Act, as it stood prior to its omission by Act 68 of 1976 with effect from May
27, 1976, Hon’ble Justice R.S. Bachawat (as His Lordship then was) observed
that the word “unmarried” has several meanings and an interesting discussion is
found in Soleman Bibi (supra). The popular meaning of the word, according to
His Lordship, is “never having been married” and the dictionary meaning is “not
married”. Having regard to section 25(1), the Bench was of the opinion that
“unmarried” in the context cannot mean “never having been married” because
the applicant must have been a husband or a wife and, therefore, must have
been married; nor can it mean “not married” for an order under section 25 may
be passed in favour of a married woman on the passing of a decree of judicial
separation or for restitution of conjugal rights. In the context of section 25(1), His
Lordship held that the word means “not remarried”.
43. It is, therefore, clear that the word ‘unmarried’ is used in different senses and
defined in dictionaries widely enough, and the flexibility in its meaning has
received the judicial imprimatur.
44. Focussing on Chapter IX, we have noticed that married daughters are not
completely excluded from the scheme of compassionate appointment or monetary
compensation and this is clear from a reading of clause 9.3.3. A widowed
daughter/daughter-in-law, included in the second category of dependants, has to
be a married woman. The parties to the NCWA-VI never intended to keep a
married daughter completely out of the zone of consideration. It is, therefore,
inconceivable that a divorcee daughter may not have been in the minds of the
parties to the agreement and/or was deliberately excluded from the scheme. We
cannot assume, in the absence of any other material to the contrary, that a
divorcee daughter who claims to be dependent on the earnings of a deceased
worker and, given the opportunity, could prove such claim, should be told off at
the threshold on the specious ground that she was once married and thus ceased
to be a dependent of her father/mother. Taking a cue from the decision in
Soleman Bibi (supra), we can safely hold 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
and having regard to the object of social security cover that the relevant term
(para 9.3.0) seeks to embody, 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’. Since a daughter who ‘has never
been married’ and who ‘is not married on the relevant date’ are comprehended
within “unmarried daughter” in clause 9.3.3, we are convinced that it was not
necessary to separately refer to a divorcee daughter as one who could also be
eligible as a dependent of a deceased worker to have the benefits extended to her.
45. We are of the further view that if indeed a divorcee daughter was intended to be
excluded from the species of dependants, the expression ‘daughter, who is a
spinster’ could more appropriately convey that a divorcee daughter is not entitled
to be regarded as a dependent for conferment of benefit envisaged by para 9.3.0.
46. Also, we have noticed the absence of any discussion in the said judgment as to
what exactly “unmarried daughter” would connote and whether Putul as a
divorcee and dependent on the earnings of Geeta, on her death, could fit in the
category of ‘dependent’ or not; instead, we find that stress appears to have been
given on exclusion of a “divorcee daughter” in the species of dependants. In our
opinion, a different approach was called for.
47. The question can also be looked at from a different angle and answered.
48. An agreement under section 18 of the 1947 Act is generated upon meeting of
minds of two or more parties and such agreement is intended primarily to
safeguard the interest of workers, having regard to the fact that such Act is a
beneficent legislation. In industrial law, the benefit of reasonable doubt on law
and facts, if there be any, ought to go in favour of the weaker section.
49. The text and the context, in which the words “unmarried daughter” appear, have
to be given primordial consideration. If the words “unmarried daughter” are
susceptible of two meanings ~ primary and secondary ~ as per the authorities
noticed above, there is no reason as to why the secondary meaning of such words
may not be looked at and applied so as to further or advance the object of social
security cover, i.e. extending benefits of compassionate appointment/monetary
compensation to a dependent of a deceased worker, unless of course attributing
the secondary meaning produces absurd results. In construing the words
“unmarried daughter”, such construction that sub-serves common good and not
the reverse ought to be adopted; and the words “unmarried daughter”, as noticed
earlier, are wide enough to take within its fold one who does not have a husband
on the material date. There is no earthly reason as to why bearing in mind the
purpose or object of the scheme for providing employment opportunity or
monetary compensation to a dependent of a deceased worker, the court should
cut down the amplitude of the word ‘unmarried’, which is intelligible and can be
given full meaning in the context where it is used.
50. Having regard to the scheme of compassionate appointment as envisaged in
Chapter IX of NCWA-VI, we have no doubt in our mind and accordingly, hold that
an “unmarried daughter” as appearing in clause 9.3.3 would not only include a
daughter who has never been married, but also a daughter who was once
married but her marriage has been dissolved by a decree of divorce and she
remains ‘not married’ on the date of death of her father/mother (the worker). We
find no good reason as to why by putting a strained construction on the words
“unmarried daughter”, a divorcee daughter should be held to have been excluded
and, a fortiori, ineligible for consideration.
51. Next, we proceed to deal with Mr. Sinha’s endeavour to demonstrate why a
divorcee daughter may have been excluded from the provision and why the case
of a divorcee daughter cannot be equated with that of an unmarried daughter
having regard to the legal provisions that were referred to, as recorded in
paragraph 33 of the said judgment and extracted supra.
52. For the purpose of construction of the words “unmarried daughter”, it is not
necessary for us to look into what other statutes provide or do not provide to
unmarried/married daughters as to their entitlement. That certain enactments
might have excluded divorcee daughters from entitlements and an express
entitlement in favour of a divorcee daughter is not referred to in para 9.3.3 of
Chapter IX is not decisive and would not necessarily lead to the conclusion that a
divorcee daughter is not entitled to be favoured with the benefits that the scheme
envisages, in view of the discussions above.
53. That apart, the point as to who could be included within the meaning of
“unmarried daughter” would hinge on the dependency factor, for, dependency is
the vital test to be fulfilled in order to be eligible for consideration for
compassionate appointment in terms of the NCWA-VI, followed of course by the
other eligibility criteria.
54. It is needless to observe 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.
55. Once Putul was married, her dependency on Geeta ceased. It is, however, on
record that after her marriage was dissolved by a decree of the competent court,
Putul returned to her maternal home and started residing with Geeta. Geeta’s
prayers for incorporation of the names of Putul and her son in the service records
as dependents of Geeta were allowed and ECL has not disputed that Putul and
her son were acknowledged to be Geeta’s dependents. Also, Putul has been the
recipient of Geeta’s dues. The dependency factor revived after the decree of
divorce was passed by the competent court and Putul returned to Geeta for her
survival, which is one other important factor that seems to have not received the
consideration the same deserved.
56. There is, thus, no merit in the argument advanced by Mr. Sinha.
57. Finally, we need to notice and examine how the decision of the Division Bench in
Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra) was dealt with in the said judgment. That the
learned Judge perceived the view taken therein to be “without any discussion or
reasons in support thereof” and such decision could be seen “to be on the basis
of the concession by ECL”. The learned Judge held that:
“39. * * * However, the appellate order in …. plainly held that the status
of a divorcee daughter would be that of an unmarried daughter and such
view, without any discussion or reasons in support thereof, was rendered
in the context of a claim by a dependent divorcee daughter of a coal
miner. But it must also be seen that no further discussion on such aspect
was necessary since the concerned coal company agreed to offer the
appointment to the divorcee daughter.”
We, however, do not share such view for the reasons that follow.
58. The decision of the Division Bench in Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra) cannot
be perceived as one rendered on a concession by ECL. Paragraphs 3 to 5 of the
said decision, as we have noted above, were quoted by the learned Judge in the
said judgment. After referring to the law that “constitutionality of a term or of a
provision has to be considered only where it is imperative”, it was held on by the
Division Bench, facts, that “it is not necessary to decide that aspect at all since
clearly the status of the daughter of the writ petitioner was that of an ‘unmarried
daughter’ on the day when the writ petitioner claimed employment for her”. The
Division Bench then proceeded to record the submission of the learned senior
counsel appearing for ECL that employment would be given to the appellant.
Such submission was made obviously upon realisation that appointment in
favour of the divorcee daughter could not be stalled by the contentions that were
advanced on behalf of the appellant. However, the facts of the case and the ratio
of the decision are easily discernible if one proceeds to read the first two
paragraphs thereof. The same being extremely relevant for the purpose of a
decision on the writ petition filed by Putul, are quoted hereunder:
“1. The whole controversy in this appeal is as to whether the concerned writ
petitioner’s daughter did have the status of an ‘unmarried daughter’. If she
is an ‘unmarried daughter’ then she can be employed in place of her mother
who has been declared medically unfit and whose employment has been
terminated on that count or, as the case may be, whose resignation has
been accepted. In short, the mother who was an employee of ECL has
suffered bad health and there is termination of her employment with ECL.
There is a Scheme. Under the Scheme it is provided under Clause 9.3.3 that
an unmarried daughter of such person (amongst the other relatives) can be
appointed in her place. ECL, the appellant herein, interpreted this clause as
excluding the ‘divorced daughter’. This was wholly incorrect. This was
challenged before the learned Judge of this Court who found fault with the
validity of the term ‘unmarried’ and declared that as unconstitutional.
2. In our view, that could not have been done. This was a simple case of
deciding as to whether the daughter of the writ petitioner was unmarried or
not. In our clear opinion she was an ‘unmarried daughter’ when the writ
petitioner applied for her employment. It is not the case of ECL that she had
married again. Merely because she was married once and had gone out of
the family but was thereafter divorced would not deprive her of her status as
an ‘unmarried daughter’. In fact, she gets back the status of unmarried
daughter the moment she is divorced and her marriage was terminated by a
valid decree of divorce or as per the customary law. Here it is an admitted
position that she was divorced. She herself has very clearly shown her
status as a divorced person. There is nothing to suggest that the divorced
daughter of the writ petitioner cannot claim the status of an ‘unmarried
daughter’. In fact, that is the only status she enjoys. Therefore in our view, it
is not necessary to go into the constitutionality or the validity of the term
(underlining for emphasis by us)
The aforesaid excerpts from the decision in Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra), in
our view, were sufficient to clinch the issue in favour of Putul. However, to say
that the Division Bench “without any discussion or reasons in support thereof”,
held that the status of a divorcee daughter would be that of an unmarried
daughter after she is divorced was a bit too harsh. The Division Bench,
howsoever briefly, did discuss the status of a divorcee daughter and expressed its
opinion that the only status she enjoys is that of an “unmarried daughter”. In the
absence of any authoritative pronouncement to the contrary, the opinion ought
to have been accepted.
59. Mr. Sinha sought to salvage the situation by submitting that the decision in
Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra) is contrary to the law of the land and that the
learned Judge was right in being critical of such decision. He even went to the
extent of submitting that we should declare the said decision as one which was
rendered per incuriam.
60. We are afraid the argument of Mr. Sinha is one in desperation and, thus, cannot
be accepted. As held above, understanding of the meaning of the words
“unmarried daughter” cannot be coloured by reference to personal laws. The
views expressed by the Division Bench in Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra) that
upon a decree of divorce coming into existence and dissolving a marriage between
a couple, the wife gets back the status of being single i.e. not married, and if it is
proved by her that she was dependent on the earnings of the deceased worker
and otherwise qualifies for appointment/monetary compensation her claim
cannot be negatived, does not suffer from any serious error, far less any
perceivable defect, for which it should be declared as a decision rendered per
incuriam. We are ad idem with the ratio of such decision and approve the same.
61. For the reasons aforesaid, the judgment and order dated May 18, 2016 passed on
the writ petition of Putul stands set aside.
62. The order dated May 29, 2015 of the General Manager (P IR) having been
upheld based on the ground that a ‘divorcee daughter’ cannot be comprehended
within “unmarried daughter” in clause 9.3.3, the other grounds assigned by him
were not duly examined although His Lordship did record that “the apparent
bounty” received by Putul was “not a relevant consideration”. To be entitled to
full relief, Putul has to succeed by persuading us to hold that the other grounds
so assigned are equally untenable as the ground which found favour of the
63. We do record our approval that Putul should succeed in her challenge entirely. It
seems that to anyhow spurn Putul’s claim, the General Manager (P IR) pumped
in reasons in his order without even realising whether the same at all could form
the foundation therefor. First, he referred to a clause that required reference to a
body should there be any dispute arising out of interpretation of the terms of the
agreement. Having noticed such term, it baffles us as to how the General
Manager (P IR) himself could unilaterally interpret the words “unmarried
daughter” to the prejudice of Putul without making any reference. Secondly, the
decision in Eastern Coalfields Limited (supra) was distinguished by the General
Manager (P IR) on the ground that the Division Bench was considering the case
of a worker who had been rendered medically unfit to continue in service,
whereas Geeta had died while in service. The distinction sought to be made
cannot be countenanced at all and no long drawn process of reasoning is
required to set it at naught. Medical unfitness or death of a worker is not the real
point. Whether a divorcee daughter like Putul claiming to be a dependent of
Geeta (a deceased worker) could be comprehended within “unmarried daughter”
for employment/compensation, was the point that had emerged for decision. We
are dismayed that Putul’s claim was dealt with in such a callous manner. Lastly,
reliance was placed on decisions of the Supreme Court without even referring to
it. In view of the discussion made in paragraph 30 above regarding the scheme
envisaged in para 9.3.0, it is immaterial that Putul received substantial money on
the death of Geeta. Compassionate appointment/monetary compensation in
terms of para 9.3.0 as agreed to by the parties to the NCWA-VI has not been
made dependent on the need for an immediate employment or monetary
compensation. Appointment or compensation by payment of money to a female
dependent of a deceased worker is automatic upon death (subject to fulfilment of
the conditions in clause 9.3.4 insofar as appointment is concerned). Even no
application is required to be made. Irrespective of the quantum of death benefits
that might have accrued in favour of a deceased worker, her dependent (as
defined in clause 9.3.3) would be entitled to consideration for appointment, if she
is of the required age, or monetary compensation. None of the grounds assigned
for spurning the claim of Putul being of any worth, we set aside the order dated
May 29, 2015 of the General Manager (P IR).
64. Having held that Putul was entitled to be considered for compassionate
appointment/monetary compensation under para 9.3.0, we now focus our
attention on clause 9.3.2 and para 9.5.0.
65. Para 9.5.0 (i) provides that in case of death due to mine accident, the female
dependant would have the option to either accept the monetary compensation of
Rs.4,000/- per month or employment irrespective of her age. Since Geeta did not
die as a result of a mine accident, sub-para (i) has no application. Sub-para (ii) of
para 9.5.0 provides as follows:
“In case of death/total permanent disablement due to cause other than
mine accident and medical unfitness under Clause 9.4.0, if the female
dependant is below the age of 45 years she will have the option either to
accept the monetary compensation of Rs.3000/- per month or
In case the female dependant is above 45 years of age she will be entitled
only to monetary compensation and not to employment.”
66. Having sensed that we were not in favour of accepting his arguments, Mr. Sinha
submitted that in view of dearth of vacant posts ECL may be permitted to
consider the issue of compensating Putul by money in terms of para 9.5.0(ii). Mr.
Banerjee, representing Putul, agreed to the suggestion of Mr. Sinha.
67. In that view of the matter, the appeal (FMA 4401 of 2016) stands allowed with
direction upon ECL to calculate Putul’s financial benefits in terms of para
9.5.0(ii) within a period of a month from date and to disburse the arrears in her
favour within two months from date of such quantification. The current payment
shall be released by the first of each month and continued to be paid to her for
68. We are, however, unable to grant any relief to Sefali. She was a married lady on
the date of death of Manik and, therefore, is not covered in terms of clause 9.3.3.
For such reason, dismissal of her writ petition by the learned Judge is upheld
and FMA 4403 of 2016 stands dismissed.
69. Parties shall bear their own costs.
Photocopy of this judgment and order, duly countersigned by the Assistant Court
Officer, shall be retained with the records of FMA 4403 of 2016.
Tapabrata Chakraborty J.:
I have gone through the well-reasoned judgment of my learned brother and
I entirely agree with the same. Expressing my concurrence with the reasons given
in the said judgment, I may add a few words, mainly by way of emphasis.
It is a well-settled principle of interpretation that a beneficent scheme
should be liberally construed. The reason behind this rule of interpretation is
that the authorities should not whittle down the object and purpose of the
scheme by deciding according to the strict letter of the text. The courts will rather
consider its fair meaning and will expound the scheme, in order to preserve the
Judiciary has a strong sense of justice and it works to maintain social
justice and fairness and it is not separated from feelings of righteousness. The
object and purpose of the settlement towards compassionate appointment
emanates from the dependency factor. The intent being to mitigate the hardships
faced by the dependant upon the loss of the sole bread earner.
Clause 9.3.3 of NCWA-VI runs as follows:
“The dependant for this purpose means the wife/husband as the case may
be, unmarried daughter, son and legally adopted son. If no such direct dependant
is available for employment, brother, widowed daughter/widowed daughter-in-law
or son-in-law residing with the deceased and almost wholly dependant on the
earnings of the deceased may be considered to be the dependant of the deceased.”
A perusal of the said clause reveals 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.
According to the Webster’s Encyclopaedic Unabridged Dictionary the word
“such”, when used as an adjective, means “of the kind, character, degree, extent of
that or those indicated or implied”. In view of inclusion of the word “such” as an
adjective to direct dependant, the class of direct dependants cannot be construed
to have been restricted only to the persons mentioned as direct dependants in the
The beneficent scheme underlying the settlement would be thrown out of
gear in the event, a restrictive meaning is applied and benefits are not extended
to a divorcee daughter, who returns back to her father’s family after divorce and
cessation of her relationship with her husband. Such interpretation cannot be
construed to be an instance of misplaced sympathy or to be based upon a
pretentious pulpit of morality.
With these observations in elucidation of the conclusion arrived at by His
Lordship, I agree with the directions issued.
(Nishita Mhatre, ACJ)
(Tapabrata Chakraborty, J.) (Dipankar Datta, J.)
Ms. Sanchita Barman Roy, learned advocate appearing for the Eastern
Coalfields Limited prays for stay of operation of the order passed on FMA 4401 of
We have considered the prayer and find no reason to accept the same. The
prayer for stay stands refused.
(Nishita Mhatre, ACJ)
(Tapabrata Chakraborty, J.) (Dipankar Datta, J.)