Lack of promotion policy takes toll on scientists

Despite the apex court order in 2011, the absence of clear-cut promotion policy shows government's apathy towards scientists working with seven key ministries in India

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Pratap Vikram Singh | May 22, 2014



In December 2004, the department of biotechnology under the ministry of science and technology, finalised the name of five scientists for promotion. The names were finalised based on interviews and after assessment of the annual confidential report (ACR) by a duly appointed selection committee.

The committee recommended the promotion of scientists with effect from January 1, 2005. The scientists held the position of grade F and were expecting to move up to grade G that is equivalent to the rank of a joint secretary. Since the promotion to the level of a joint secretary requires a go ahead from the appointments committee of cabinet (ACC) that is headed by the prime minister, the department sent its recommendations the same month.

Dr Rajesh Kapur, who is a grade G scientist, working as advisor to the department, was among the five candidates who were awaiting approval of the ACC. It was only seven months later, in August 2005, the ACC issued a promotion order. To everyone’s surprise there was only one name in the list.

Interestingly, the person who got the promotion was the junior most amongst the five in notified seniority list issued by the department.

The trouble did not end here for the remaining four officials. The scientists anticipated that promotions, which were already delayed by one and half year, would be considered from the day of eligibility—to be given with retrospective effect. However, in September 2006, the ACC issued another order promoting Kapur and other three scientists. The promotions, however, were not antedated (retrospective).

As the delayed promotion was due to the administrative delay on part of the government, the scientists appealed to the ACC on three occasions between 2007 and 2012. They requested that their promotion should be implemented with retrospective effect. All three times the ACC responded briskly and sparsely: “Your request has been rejected”.
Dr Kapur, meanwhile, filed an RTI application with ACC seeking information on the marks that were given by the selection committee. It was revealed that the scientist who got promotion first had scored the lowest (75 percent, though marks were above the eligibility cut off). The other scientists had 80 to 90 percent scores.

As if this wasn’t enough, the ACC cleared files of promotion of two other scientists from the department even before promoting Dr Kapur and other three colleagues. The two scientists, who had become eligible for promotion to grade G in 2006, were junior to Dr Kapur and three other scientists. In the case of two junior scientists the ACC responded in just two months.

In July 2013, Dr Kapur along with a fellow scientist took their case to the central administrative tribunal (CAT).  The CAT issued a notice, seeking government’s response. The case was scheduled and then rescheduled 10 times. The government replied only in mid May 2014; more than nine years after the actual date when the four scientists were supposed to get their promotion, the matter was yet to be settled.

Scientists: A deprived lot
The un-reasonable discretion exercised by the ACC is symptomatic of the government’s apathy towards scientists working with seven ministries including—science and technology, ministry of environment and forest and communications and information technology.

While the promotion is delayed due to departments’ inefficiency, it is the scientists who pay the price, as they are denied promotion with retrospective effect. The scientists lose on financial emoluments which they could have got if promotion was given in a fair, transparent and timely fashion. Owing to the discretion exercised by the bureaucrats, senior scientists become juniors to their juniors. The problem faced by Dr Rajesh Kapur is just one of the cases in the point.

The delay in promotion also has a cascading effect on officials’ career. If there is an opening at senior positions, hierarchy is considered a part of the eligibility criteria. So scientists whose promotion is delayed further lose on their career opportunities.

There are thousands of scientists, working across central ministries, who suffer due to the discretion exercised by the government (by ACC and most of the times by departments) in deciding on promotion, irrespective of performance and the actual day of promotion.

Reacting to the question by Governance Now, a senior national informatics centre (NIC) official on condition of anonymity said, “Dr Kapur is lucky to be working with the department of biotechnology, as at least it convened the selection committee on time. Most other departments and ministries, who recruit scientists, take one to four years time to convene a selection committee to assess the performance of scientists.”

The situation is such that the scientists are forced to go to the CAT and high court (if the request is turned down by the CAT) almost every time they are due for promotion since the issue of delay and anti-dating keeps on raising head time and again. A scientist is recruited at B level and retires at G and H levels (it differs from case to case). To ensure that their seniority is protected after promotion and their arrears is paid with retrospective effect the scientists have to run from pillar to post.

The discretion exercised by the bureaucracy in deciding on promotion related matters is completely unwarranted if one goes by government’s own rule book and the supreme court judgement.

For records: there is a modified flexible complementing scheme (MFCS), the rule book for promotion of scientists, categorically stating that a department’s assessment committee should meet twice a year (in July and January) and take a decision before a scientist becomes eligible for promotion. Besides, there is also a landmark judgement (2011) of the supreme court in the case of SK Murti, a scientist who worked with Botanical Survey of India. Giving judgement in favour of Murti, the court had ruled that the department should consider his promotion on antedating basis as the delay was on the part of the government. The apex court had also instructed the government to pay all financial emoluments within four weeks of the judgement. 

The apex court in its order said, “It is not in dispute that vacancies existed when the departmental review committee considered the case of the respondent and other similarly situated persons for promotion. It is also not in dispute that in terms of paragraph 51.25 of the 5th Pay Commission recommendations, the departmental review committee /assessment board was required to meet every six months, that is, in January and July and the promotions were to be made effective from the date of eligibility.”

Promotion policy: clarity but no intention
It is interesting to note that the supreme court in its judgement three years ago had clearly said that the order should be followed in any similar case. However, since the government is yet to come up with a standard policy to bring more transparency in promotion of scientists, the issue keeps on raising its head. Beside heartburn, the issue also causes lots of administrative and legal hassles for employees.

The court, in its judgement had noted that, “Similar order shall be passed for all similarly situated persons despite the fact that they may not have approached the high court questioning the order passed by the tribunal,” adding that the order was being given to avoid further litigation on the matter.
According to some senior officials, the issue is more prevalent in departments like Forest Research Institute (FRI) and NIC where scientists have to take the matter to CAT at each step of promotions.

Worse, at FRI, employees pursuing the cause and taking up the legal battle for promotion are told to “face consequences”. Take the case of Dr Ashok Kumar for example. Kumar works with FRI as scientist E. He was denied promotion for 10 months. On 15 October 2012 he was made head of genetics division for a term of three years. “As I was actively involved in taking the case of promotion to CAT, the DG, FRI, issued an order on 19 August 2013 asking me to vacate position on administrative grounds,” he informed.

Then there are many scientists who have missed their promotion twice. For Dr Rakesh Kumar who works with FRI in Dehradun, his first promotion came 17 months after the scheduled date. He was due for promotion from scientist B to scientist C on 1st July 2008 but he was promoted only on 30 November 2009. On 1 July 2012, he became eligible for promotion form grade C to grade D. However, he hasn’t been considered for promotion yet.

So is the case with Dr Rashmi of FRI. She was due for promotion from scientist B to scientist C on 1 July 2008. She was promoted after an administrative delay of 18 months. And while she became eligible for promotion to scientist D on 1 July 2012, she is yet to be considered for it.

Following this, a group of 52 scientists, including Dr Kumar and Dr Rashmi, have filed a case in CAT. The tribunal has sought a reply to a notice it issued on 30 May last year to Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRI), the parent institution working under the ministry of environment and forest. The hearing has been scheduled for five times since then but the administration is yet to reply.

NIC: Victim of govt apathy
The CAT has delivered series of judgements in favour of scientists working with NIC, the technical arm of the department of electronics and IT under the ministry of communications of IT. This, however, hasn’t helped scientists as the department hasn’t complied with CAT order and it plans to challenge the same in the Delhi high court.

When a group of 129 scientists went to CAT in 2013, the tribunal delivered order in favour of the scientists. The CAT bench headed by G George Paracken and Uday Kumar Verma said: “We... direct the respondents (the department of electronics and IT) to consider granting benefit of promotion to the applicants as prayed for by them as extracted earlier in para two of the order from the due date with all consequential benefits of pay fixation and payment of arrears as directed by supreme court in the case of SK Murti. The aforesaid direction shall be implemented within a period of six weeks from the date of receipt of a certified copy of this order.”

The CAT pronounced the order on 21 February 2014. To pre-empt the DeitY move of challenging CAT’s order in Delhi high court, the NIC employee association is planning to submit a caveat before the court requesting that the department’s case should not be admitted and rejected at first place based on apex court’s 2011 judgement.

“Leave the senior scientists and just imagine the plight of junior scientists working in nook and corner of the country. What motivation and incentive they have working with the NIC,” said a senior official with NIC.

The scientists can be saved of mental agony, legal expenses and harassment if government comes up with a clear policy of promotion on antedating basis. The government (read department of personnel and training, the nodal agency for promotion related matters), however, chooses to remain silent. To begin with, scientists said, the DoPT should first withdraw its office memorandum of 2002 which stated that no promotion is granted with retrospective effect.
 

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