ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court (LHC), Rawalpindi bench, on Tuesday suspended the appointment of 845 employees in Pakistan Railways and asked the departmental authorities to explain their position over the matter.

The suspension order was given by Justice Shams Mehmood Mirza during the proceedings on a petition by the Pakistan Railways Employees (Prem) Union. The CBA claims that more than half of the 845 employees belong to the constituencies of Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafiq.

“I would like to hear respondents [the secretary, general manager services, divisional superintendent and divisional personnel officer of the Railways]. Let notice be issued to the said respondents for December 09, 2019,” says the order authored by Justice Mirza.

The “selection process on the basis of balloting is suspended till the next date of hearing”, the order says.

Labour union alleges that ‘half of appointees’ belong to constituencies of Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid and his nephew

Advocate Imran Shafique, the counsel for Prem Union, told the court that the union — as the collective bargaining agent (CBA) of Pakistan Railways — had challenged the respondents’ decision to induct employees through balloting process.

“No law, rule or regulation permits induction of employees through balloting,” the lawyer insisted.

According to the petition, the Railways authorities in October last year got advertisements published in newspapers for recruitments in BS-1 to BS-5 of different categories against 322 posts. It was followed by another ad in Nov 2018 in which the categories were increased and the number of seats was raised from 322 to 845.

“The concept of recruitment through balloting is quite alien to the law of the land. The candidates who secured highest marks in the skill/written test and proved their mettle in the interviews deserved to be appointed on the basis of open merit, but the Railways authorities while changing the criteria placed all successful candidates in the same position and decided their fate on the basis of draws/balloting,” the petition deplores.

Besides objecting to the balloting, Prem Union claims in the petition that “more than half of the so-called successful candidates belong to the constituency of the incumbent minister for Railways. One gets amazed to note that from almost 29 constituencies of National Assembly of the Rawalpindi Division (i.e. Pakistan Railways Division), more than half of the candidates remained successful from just two constituencies of Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew MNA Sheikh Rashid Shafiq”.

It added that “this honourable court can verify this aspect by summoning the record for its judicial review”.

Secret balloting was “staged” to “bequeath the blue eyed ones”, the union alleges and laments: “It is quite unfortunate that the official respondents misused their authority and played at the hands of political elite for their motivated designs.”

It says that 58 per cent seats were to be filled on the basis of open merit, 20pc quota was reserved for the children of Railways employees, 10pc for former employees, “5pc for orphans and handicapped and 2pc for disabled” persons. However, the quota was not observed during the induction through balloting.

“The concept of balloting is against the constitutionally recognised principle of intelligible differentia required to be observed in public sector recruitments. There is no scope of intelligence or differentia, when the entire process is to be left at the mercy of balloting. If this practice is allowed, the very concept of merit and fitness for appointments at government offices will be badly affected,” the petition concludes.

Further hearing has been adjourned till Dec 9.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2019