Law ministrys irregular appointment process scrapped

New Delhi: In an embarrassment to the Union Law Ministry, the Central Administrative Tribunal has scrapped its appointment process for recruitment of deputy government counsel under prestigious Indian Legal Service, saying the ministry had "changed the rules of the game midway".

While scrapping the entire appointment process initiated in 2007 to select 6 ILS officers as deputy government counsel in the ministry, the CAT also indicted the Union Public Service Commission for not adhering studiously to the recruitment rules and ordered it to begin the process afresh.

"It is a well-settled principle that once the process of selection starts, the prescribed selection criteria cannot be changed. In the instant case, the respondents had changed the rules of the game, while the game was in progress," said the CAT, scrapping the appointment process.

"The whole selection process for the post of deputy government counsel, initiated by the advertisement in July 2007 has been vitiated by the irregular process followed for the selection," said a bench of CAT`s Chairman, Justice V K Bali, and Vice-chairman L K Joshi.

"The only option available is that the whole process should be scrapped and fresh selection should be made by inviting applications afresh," it added, while scrapping the appointment process which had eventually been able to appoint only one officer.

The order came on petitions filed by five ministry officials — four of them working as assistant legal advisers and one as deputy legal adviser on ad hoc basis, challenging the appointment process. The five officials too had applied for the appointment as deputy government counsel, but moved the CAT detecting the irregularities in the appointment process.

They had applied for the post of deputy government counsel as the posts were not open to be filled up through promotion by departmental candidates.

During the adjudication of their pleas, the CAT found that to fill five vacancies of deputy government counsel in the ministry, the UPSC had issued the advertisement inviting applications in July 2007, in response to which a total of 516 candidates applied.

Out of the 516 applicants, the UPSC short-listed and invited 63 candidates for interview between June 8 and 12, 2009. But, midway through the interviews, the law ministry sent to the UPSC the names of its six officials for their interview against the same vacancies.

Seven months later, the UPSC summoned 280 more candidates out of original 516 applicants as none of the originally interviewed candidates were appointed against the vacancies, which had been later reduced to five.

While examining how 6 additional candidates sponsored by the ministry came to be interviewed by UPSC along with 69 originally selected ones, the CAT found they were working in the ministry as assistant legal advisers and had represented to the ministry contending that they were senior to candidates being interviewed.

The CAT found the reasoning both queer and illogical and said, "The reason is not logical as the recruitment to the post of deputy government counsel was by direct recruitment and not by promotion and hence there could be no consideration of seniority."

The CAT also found the norms and methods adopted for subsequent invitation to 280 candidates for interview as indefensible as they far exceeded the norm of inviting candidates ten times more than the number of vacancies.

"The illegality was compounded by the UPSC by calling 280 other candidates for interview, who had earlier not been called as better candidates were available," said CAT.