Jamming Jobs

Recruitments in the government are chaotic and painful, writes Tasvur Mushtaq in the backdrop of the SSB crisis in police SI examinations

Job is a joy in Kashmir. With a staggering over 18 per cent unemployment rate for May 2022, the third-highest after Haryana and Rajasthan, the scene in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state is scary. Given the little presence of the organized private sector, the entire focus is on government machinery, which has already started taking a toll on the overall health of the economy.

As they say, the job in Kashmir is working in the government, the rest are all unemployed.

The Trauma

In 2016, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (JKPSC) invited online applications for the J&K Combined Competitive (Preliminary) Examination for 277 vacancies. The commission received 47,122 applications. Of these, 36,681 aspirants appeared for the examination, held in 2017. Subsequently, 6925 candidates were shortlisted for the next phase, the main examination. The last shortlisted candidate as per the available data scored 270.47 marks out of the total 450 marks. The routine to conduct the next phase resumed. But there were a select number of candidates who had a reason to react. They knocked on the doors of JKPSC. Subsequently, the Court had to come to for rescue.

The plea made was that the model answer keys of JKPSC were “incorrect.” So much so that JKPSC had written “Oncology is the science of mountains” as the correct answer to one of the questions. The discrepancy was described in many other questions. Resultantly, a re-evaluation was ordered. But that was bound to disturb the dynamics. And it does so.

The re-evaluated list revised the merit. Among the earlier selected candidates, 429 were left out as their merit dropped beyond the revised cut-off. The mains examination was already knocking. The left-out candidates had their own reason to resist. The case was emerging as a crisis. There were 2365 candidates falling in merit above the left out 429 candidates. The High court intervened. The court permitted “all those candidates (2365) to sit in fresh mains examination, who had obtained merit in the preliminary examination determined in the process of re-evaluation equal to or more than the marks secured by the last candidate among the 429 candidates.”  Though JKPSC had allowed 429 candidates to continue to appear in the mains examination, the High Court observed that “keeping the 2365 candidates out of the selection process would be doing grave injustice and would generate unnecessary litigation.”

At last, the court cancelled the examination. “Having been left with no option, we direct the cancellation of the mains examination at whatever stage it is as on the date and direct the appellant to hold it afresh by permitting the following set of candidates to participate,” a division bench of Justices Sanjeev Kumar and Janak Raj Kotwal said in the judgment.

The new process to hold examinations was started. It again took its own time and tragedies continue to occur. The court had to intervene again and seek answers from the premier recruitment body about “data corruption, human errors and digital marking in the examination.”

Finally, the process was completed, but with a lot of hiccups and involved many years from notification to final selection.

Latest List

The latest selection list of sub-inspectors in the Jammu and Kashmir Police has courted controversy. This time, the aspirants pointed out discrepancies at a larger level by the recruiting agency, Jammu and Kashmir Service Selection Recruitment Board (SSRB). Possibly one of the major recruitments in the recent past with 1200 posts, the list has faced fierce protests, both physically and virtually.

Kashmiri youth crowded a vast ground of the BSF headquarters in Srinagar outskirts on October 18, 2020. They had come to write their examination that will pave way for their entry into BSF or CISF. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

When it snowballed into a full-fledged crisis, Manoj Sinha’s administration had to intervene. The probe was ordered to pacify protesters. R K Goyal, J&K’s additional chief secretary (home) has been tasked to complete the inquiry. Whatever the results, there are costs to be incurred.

If an indication is an instrument to infer, the administration is mulling cancelling the list if an “investigation finds malpractices in the list”. However, the candidates who worked hard seek a CBI probe to exclude only those who did the wrong. Their point is “why all will have to pay for a wrong committed by a few.” The point is valid. Punishing all for a mistake of a few is not justice and that too when official machinery is involved. Conveniently if the candidate is asked that list has been scrapped, what about the people who made it happen while continuing to be in powerful posts.

More than 97,000 candidates appeared for this examination. Barring “20 powerful siblings”, who have allegedly done the damage, all others are left in the lurch.

Who would compensate for years lost in application, examination, selection, and cancellation? Youthful years yearn for work and not unpaid vacations, enforced by possible employers.

The Process

In our societal setup, barring a few professional positions, there is no segregation. Resultantly, living with an idea to get a job, aspirants prepare for multiple posts. Apply almost everywhere. It is later luck and level of hard work that decides where they are placed. A candidate who waits for days to submit a form for a non-gazette post is also in the race for a gazette cadre. In between, he is also interested in banking services or mulling an idea of entrepreneurship.

In such a scenario, a well-defined examination schedule is of utmost importance to ensure that dates don’t clash. This is not an exception.

Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), the country’s premier recruitment agency does the same. Almost a year before, the schedule for next year is being published, giving ample time to aspirants to choose their set of examinations as per the time and other related factors. Accordingly, other things follow. There may be alterations, but those are slight and announced well before the time.

Take an example. What UPSC will do in 2023 has already been published on May 4, 2022. In case, they don’t name an examination, they simply put it like, “Reserved for UPSC Examination.” This is being done to avoid chaos and confusion and last-minute changes.

The Practice

If the theory is shelved for a while, the practice in Jammu and Kashmir defies logic to the last point. The two main recruiting agencies of the erstwhile state, JKPSC and JKSSRB, issue dates as per their own convenience and separately for separate examinations. There is no uniform schedule for a year or at least six months. This is why every time applications follow agitations. A recent example is that of CCE 2022. Scheduled to be held on June 26, it has been postponed to July 31.

First, the process in Kashmir has no permanence. It seems sort of more a political message rather than professional engagement. Posts are announced as a rehabilitation measure and not something, which is part of the basic requirement of an educated class.

For example; Tahir along with other aspirants applied for a job five years ago the post of Assistant Professor. While waiting he got married and the process continued. He qualified for the stages of selection, but before being selected, the administration withdrew all vacancies it had referred to JKPSC and JKSSRB for recruitment before October 31, 2019. Father of two, Tahir joined a private school to earn a livelihood and avoid further trauma. A topper during his university days, he has crossed the age bar.

Second, from the date of advertisement to the appointment, the time taken is so long that at times candidates don’t remember their candidature. In between this process, the creation of posts and referring to recruiting agencies is another long story. There are even instances where no post has been advertised for years together.

For example; during the past decade not even a single non-gazetted post has been advertised by JKSSRB for Forestry graduates, and for the past four years, no gazetted post has been advertised in JK Forestry Department.

Jammu Kashmir Public Service Commission in Srinagar

Third; almost every process of recruitment sees multiple stages of stay in the court. The latest addition is the recruitment and promotion processes of J&K Bank. Invariably there is always a feeling of having court intervention to settle things and tackle aggrieved candidates. On a lighter note, a friend once quoted that recruitment for others is a source of income for lawyers.

In most of those cases, it is the court that lays down the norms to proceed further in recruitment by the agencies otherwise designated by the government.

For example; this week, on June 16, the High Court ordered a stay on filling the vacancy of Panchayat Secretary. This is the latest, but not the last.

Tail Piece

JKPSC is a historical institution. A constitutional body was established in 1957. After more than 65 years of its existence, the commission is faced with a crisis of consistency or credibility that is certainly a sad state of affairs.

An institution of eminence should ensure that merit is not murdered by delay and discrepancies. Like UPSC, a pattern needs to be followed that guarantees the results within a prescribed time frame.

JKSSRB is not new as well. Functioning since 1992, 30 years later there are serious lacunae that raise questions over the system more than the surroundings.

Employment is the essence of engaging educated and emancipated youth to be part of the progress. Both, personal and societal. Otherwise, supposed to be healthy, the haunting situation out in the market has created a hopeless situation. Whenever posts are advertised, there is a subtle feeling that it would not be fair. Despite assurances, when actually the discrepancies are reported, it erodes the faith in the institutions of integrity.

And, when a system takes years to appoint an officer, how can he be expected to ensure swift delivery once he reaches the post.

Is not the system teaching them subtly that delay is routine and not an exception?

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