Coming to the aid of a batch of agronomists, sociologists and engineers who were involved in an Integrated Watershed Management Programme in Madurai district for a period of more than 10 years, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has asked the government to consider engaging them in any forthcoming projects.
The court was hearing a batch of petitions filed by the Watershed Development Team members who challenged the decision to terminate their services. The team members sought a direction to the authorities to retain them till the end of the project that was funded by both Centre and State.
The petitioners said that they had been engaged for more than 10 years in the project and after utilising their services for all these years, their services were terminated against their interest. They said that the team members had crossed the age of 40-45 years and at this stage they cannot go anywhere and seek employment.
The State argued that the appointments were temporary. The project involved three phases: preparatory phase, work phase and evaluation phase. The first two phases were complete and services of the petitioners were not required in the third phase. The State intended to carry out the third phase by utilising the services of regular employees, it was submitted.
Taking cognisance of the submissions made, Justice Krishnan Ramasamy observed that the employer has a right to take a decision with regard to the provision of employment. In the present case, the employer has come to a conclusion that no work was available to avail the services of the petitioners.
The judge said that it is for the State to decide as to the utilisation of the services of the petitioners. The petitioners cannot insist the employer to provide work, when there was no work to be provided. However, taking a sympathetic view towards the plight of the petitioners, the court said that the State should consider engaging them in forthcoming projects of similar nature.
Though it is not a matter of right for the petitioners to claim any legal right over the employment, it is the duty of the State government to protect the interest of the petitioners to the extent of their survival as the State has utilised their services extensively. The petitioners cannot go and seek any new employment, the judge said.
The rich experience of the petitioners will be useful for the State, the judge said and directed the State to consider the petitioners and give priority in employment to them in forthcoming watershed projects. The court also directed the State to consider age relaxation in case of direct recruitment for the project so that the petitioners can participate in the process.
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