Court order puts question mark over ‘ballot hiring’ in other depts

Updated October 17, 2019

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When the present government took over last year, some 171,000 posts were lying vacant in federal institutions. — Creative Commons/File
When the present government took over last year, some 171,000 posts were lying vacant in federal institutions. — Creative Commons/File

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court’s suspension of hiring through ballot by the Pakistan Railways has put a question mark over the recruitment process in other federal ministries and departments under this ‘novel’ arrangement.

When the present government took over last year, some 171,000 posts were lying vacant in federal institutions.

Following a decision of the federal cabinet, the Establishment Division had on June 17 introduced amendments to the Civil Servants (Appointment, Pro­motion and Transfer) Rules, 1973. After the amendment, the word “basis” was replaced with “through balloting” in the Rule 16. It mainly focused on recruitment in grade 1 to 5.

The Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur benches of the Lahore High Court suspended the hiring process on the petitions filed by the Pakistan Railways Employees (PREM) Union and a body of signals’ points-men.

The PR’s central union said it would challenge the hiring through balloting in other provinces as well. “We are now planning to challenge this ‘Parchi Juwa’ (balloting) in Sindh and other provincial high courts and benches since we believe that the same is against the Constitution,” Hafiz Salman Butt, the union’s central president told Dawn.

The recruitment process began under the new arrangement last month. Initially, the PR officials kept it under wraps. “According to general instructions issued by our ministry, we are not supposed to call the media to cover this new recruitment process. The balloting process (which was a sort of a manual one having boxes inscribed with various posts) was transparent, as many candidates witnessed it. We also made a video of the two-hour-long balloting held here in Lahore,” PR Divisional Superintendent Aamir Nisar Chaudhry had told Dawn on Sept 2.

However, later the PR divisional administration started inviting the media for next balloting.

Jurists view

“When you change laws, rules & regulations and policies in contradiction of fundamental rights as guaranteed in the Constitution and introduce something unusual, it creates doubts. The court has rightly suspended the recruitment of several undeserving candidates,” a senior PR official told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

Legal experts believe that since the amendments to relevant rules and regulations are against the parent laws and fundamental rights (right to live and employment), the decision taken by the high court will surely affect the ongoing recruitment-through-ballot process.

“If they just want to recruit people having hands, arms, legs, shoulders and meant for lifting bags, then one can tolerate such appointments. Though this is also against the merit, the recruitment of people in grade 1 to 5 through ballot, who should have certain education, technical knowledge, good physical condition, etc, is absolutely against the Constitution and Civil Servants Act of 1973,” eminent lawyer Salman Akram Raja told Dawn.

“Have they (the government) really amended the servants (appointment, promotion and transfer) rules? I am of the view that the court’s decision may lead to stopping the ongoing balloting process in the PR and other ministries,” he said.

At present the process to fill as many as 11,000 of the over 25,000 vacancies in railways and thousands in other federal government’s ministries/departments is under way. Since most of the vacancies are in grade 1 to 5, the government decided to introduce a new recruitment process under which the appointment of shortlisted candidates is to be made through ballot, instead of interviews, in a bid to avoid those influencing the competent authorities/committee at the time of interviews.

Advocate Shahzad Shaukat termed the jobs through ballot against the right to live, as guaranteed by the Constitution. “It is really ridiculous. Have you ever seen such type of recruitment process anywhere in the world? Where is merit, where is transparency and where is the good governance? It is a clear violation of the right to live that guarantees the right to recruitment on merit under the Constitution,” he explained.

He said the amendments to the rules had been made with mala fide intentions. “When you flout merit, rules, laws and the Constitution, you ultimately face embarrassing situation. So appointments being made through balloting in the PR as well as other ministries would surely be challenged one by one, as the courts, ultimately, may finally have no option but to suspend such decisions,” he believed.

The LHC Rawalpindi bench had suspended the appointment of 845 employees in the PR during the proceedings on a petition of the PREM Union. The CBA claimed that more than half of the 845 employees belonged to the constituencies of Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafiq.

Similarly, the LHC Bahawalpur bench too issued a stay order after some points-men approached it.

According to a statistical bulletin of the Establishment Division, over 171,000 posts were lying vacant by the end of 2017 in the federal government and its autonomous bodies — almost 18 per cent of the total sanctioned strength of the departments and bodies. The division put the total sanctioned strength at over 1.13 million, stating that 966,606 employees were working against these posts.

Talking to a TV channel, Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid rejected the stance of the petitioners and said: “Actually the PR workers’ union wanted recruitment of their own people but we didn’t entertain them.” He said that one million people had applied for 8,700 vacant jobs in grade 1 to 5 in the PR.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2019