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ISLAMABAD: A serving director general of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) has alleged that the recent changes to the selection criteria for the appointment of Nadra chairman were introduced to eliminate him from the running for the post.

Nadra Director General Registration retired Col Mohammad Talha Saeed has challenged the criteria before the Islamabad High Court (IHC), which, after a preliminary hearing, issued notices to the interior secretary and to Nadra seeking their responses within a fortnight.

In his petition, Mr Saeed has challenged an advertisement for the office of Nadra chairman that states that the federal government has fixed 55 as the maximum age for applicants.

Khurram Hashmi, his counsel said the petitioner has been working at his current post since 2011, and has been serving at various positions in the organisation since 2000.

Mr Hashmi said Mr Saeed was inducted into Nadra on a regular basis as a grade 19 director in 2003. He served as community welfare attaché between 2005 and 2011.

Mr Saeed’s counsel said he was promoted to grade 20 director general in 2012, but the date of the promotion was not fixed, taking into account his foreign deputation. As a result, he said, officers junior to him were promoted well before he was.

The petitioner said he had filed a representation before the Nadra chairman, which was decided against him. He then filed a departmental appeal that was decided in his favour.

He said the age limit for the post was fixed arbitrarily at 55 years, which he has exceeded.

He said superior courts in the United States and the United Kingdom had consistently held that no forms of discrimination on the basis of age were permissible with regards to employment.

Since the age of retirement for Nadra chairman has been fixed at 65 years, he said it could be argued that a maximum age limit of 62 years could potentially be imposed, as a candidate beyond said age would not be able to serve a full term.

The petition stated that: “It is settled law that the exclusion of qualified candidates on the basis of a singular external characteristic such as age is entirely discriminatory.”

The petition argued that the actions “blatantly contravene” articles 25 and 18 of the Constitution, which “guarantee the protections of equality of all citizens and the freedom of trade, business and profession”.

“As such, preventing the petitioner from applying against a post for which he is admittedly qualified would certainly violate his fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Constitution as well as the principles of natural justice.”

According to the petition, the federal government could make changes to the selection process, but this prerogative must be exercised judiciously and in keeping with the doctrine of discretion.

The petition asks that if an age limit were to be imposed for the post in question it must be based upon clear and objective justifications.

The petitioner asked the court to declare the advertisement illegal to the extent that it imposes a maximum age limit of 55 years on applicants.

The court may also order for the advertisement to be modified by removing the age limit.

IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui while adjourning the petition allowed the federal government to continue the selection process but directed that the final appointment letter may not be issued until further order of the court.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018