CAT issues notice to UPSC, Uttarakhand govt over irregularities in joint-secretary recruitment process

The move comes following an application by Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi seeking quashing of the 360-degree appraisal system.

Published: 23rd August 2020 11:17 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd August 2020 11:17 PM   |  A+A-

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DEHRADUN: Amidst the controversy over actor Manoj Bajpai's brother's lateral entry to one of the coveted posts in Indian bureaucracy last year, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) has issued notices to Union Public Service Commission and Uttarakhand government alleging that the scheme for lateral entry into bureaucracy is flawed and biased. 

The move comes following an application by Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi seeking quashing of the 360-degree appraisal system and restraining the central government from filling up of posts of Joint Secretary-level and above posts through "contract system".

The order by Allahabad bench of CAT granted time to counsel of central government to 'seek instructions' including the department of personnel training (DoPT) and MoEF&CC. The next hearing is scheduled for September 3, 2020. 

The case dates back to 2017 when the Modi Government initiated the process for lateral entry into bureaucracy on a contract basis. Following this, the centre appointed nine professionals including actor Manoj Bajpai's brother Sujit Kumar Bajpai from the private sector as joint secretaries in the central government in 2019. 

Stating that the present system of recruitment of Joint Secretary level post through contract system is completely arbitrary and irrational, the petition said that the documents obtained under RTI Act, prima facie reveal certain serious irregularities, which needs to be investigated objectively by an appropriate agency. 

The petition based on quoting from the government documents including the DoPT and Parliamentary Committee stated that certain selected candidates were in the lower grade pay level than that of Joint Secretary level.

In one case it has been recorded that there is no information about the scale of pay of selected candidate while in another case certain discrepancies/ variations regarding fulfilment of criteria of a minimum level of annual income has been pointed out. 

"As per advertisement, individuals working at comparable levels at PSUs, Autonomous Bodies, Statutory Organizations, Universities, Recognized Research Institutes with a minimum experience of 15 years. In this regard, it is noted that Shri Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, DGM, NHPC and Shri Suman Prasad Singh, GM, NHAI are holding posts in CPUs in E-7 payscale of Rs 37400-67000 with grade pay of Rs 8700 respectively which are not equivalent to JS level. Further, payscale of Shri Bhushan Kumar who is holding the post of GM, GSPC, LNG Limited, s state PSU is not known," said the DoPT.

One of these three candidates is from Gujarat state petroleum corporation where CAG had found irregularities worth Rs 10,000 crore during Narendra Modi's tenure as the Chief Minister of the state.

In his petition, filed in February this year, the officer known for his corruption crusade has requested the tribunal to quash 360-degree appraisal system introduced by Modi government in 2015 for joint secretary-level empanelment of class one services officers (IAS, IPS, IFS and others) citing parliamentary committee report of 2017 which declared this system as arbitrary, opaque and non-transparent. 

The petition said that the entire concept of appraisal is based on overseeing the performance of a subordinate directly on a day to day basis, in a real-time manner while the system of 'Expert Panel' which forms the basis of the present system of empanelment, consist of such retired officers which have never even seen the face of the candidates being considered for empanelment. 

The officer also cited observations of parliamentary committee on the appraisal system in the petition which stated that the feedback in this process is obtained informally, making the process susceptible to being manipulated.  The committee had also stated that the feedback received from subordinates and stakeholders may be biased and lack objectivity, particularly-if the officer had to discipline his subordinates or he was unable to meet the unjustified demands of stakeholders and had recommended the government "to take necessary steps to make the process of empanelment more objective, transparent and fair”. 

The officer in his petition referring to the documents obtained from the DoPT states that the scheme of lateral entry is based on the premise that there is a shortage of officers at JS level but the documents from the government itself show that for each JS vacancy, there were 145 eligible empanelled and 18 willing officers were available for the posts. 

"There are 3065 officers empanelled to hold JS and equivalent posts at centre belonging to 1987 to 1999 batches of various participating services," said the DoPT observations. 

The documents from the DoPT also state that at that particular point of time there were 21 vacancies at the level Joint Secretary for which 3056 officers from various services were empanelled out of which 381 officers were willing and thus against each vacancy around 18 candidates were available from within the organized Group A services. 

The DoPT notings reveal that a group of secretaries have recommended written exam and interview for recruitment for the posts. Interestingly, the written exams were not conducted while the interview process was replaced with 'interaction', reveal the DoPT notings. 

The officer in his petition further stated that for contract appointees, minimum service tenure only 15 years for JS post whereas it is 17 years for an IAS and 20-25 years for other services like IPS IFS and others of the same rank. 

The petition stated, "...certain provisions of the present system of empanelment at the level of Joint Secretary and above have made the system so much onerous, cumbersome and inefficient that at present there is a gap of four years in case of IFS officers between their selection to the equivalent rank in the State Government and their consideration for empanelment at the level of Central Government and similarly there is an equal gap of four years between empanelment of IAS officers and IFS officers because presently 2002 batch of IAS officers have been empanelled for the level of Joint Secretary while in case of IFS officers, only officers up to 1998 batch have been empanelled."

Pointing out a serious flaw into the present system, he added into the petition that almost half of the available vacancies are reserved for recruitment of JS rank official in central government on contract. 

Outlining a number of cases of corruption by those empanelled from the private sector, the petition also said that there is no independent evidence available to suggest as to how All India Services officers of the same batch, who are empanelled as Joint Secretary level in Central Government, superior to the officers who were not empanelled. 

"There is no material evidence at all to indicate as to how this present system of empanelment which is not only against basic canons of administrative law & natural justice, has in any manner resulted in the superior working of Central Government Secretariat as compared to that of State Governments or as compared to the deputation of officers of ranks of Deputy Secretary & Director level, in Central Government, where no such empanelment system is in place, " asserted the petition.

The petition added that the documents show the selection of three candidates including Bajpai's brother was questioned on grounds of ineligibility by DoPT officials itself. The petition further states that two selected candidates were not even eligible to apply as per criteria published in the advertisement as they were working on one rank lower than joint secretary rank while advertisement clearly said that only persons working at equivalent rank eligible to apply and in case of a third candidate, not even his level was known at the time of recruitment.

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