The recent Kerala High Court order to quash the appointments of 58 teachers in the University of Kerala has opened a Pandora’s box in the higher education sector. The judgement is feared to pave way for the annulment of numerous appointments made in at least five State universities since 2014.
Bound to have far-reaching consequences, the Court single bench order has also put a question mark on the legal validity of the University Laws (Second Amendment) Act, 2014, passed by the Kerala Assembly, which formed the basis of the appointments made in 2017. The University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations of 2010, which had been in force then, as well as the provisions of the Kerala State and Subordinate Services Rules, 1958, had also been adhered to, university authorities point out.
Complying with the norms, the university like many others across the country had abandoned the practice of applying separate communal communal rotation for each category of teaching posts (Professor, Associate Professor and Assistant Professor) in each teaching department. Instead, teaching posts were pooled category-wise by treating all the departments (or the entire university) as a single unit. Other State universities including Kannur, Calicut, Mahatma Gandhi Universities, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit and National University of Advanced Legal Studies have all been following the procedure since 2014.
Incidentally, the move also aligns with the policy adopted by the present Central government which had brought out an ordinance in 2019 to enforce a ‘200-point roster system’ for reservation in faculty jobs in higher education institutions. Through this, 99 posts were meant to be reserved for SC, ST and OBC communities, while the remaining were kept for the general category.
The ordinance had then effectively reversed an Allahabad High Court order of 2017 that called for considering individual departments as single units. It virtually backed the ‘13-point roster system’ under which the first, second, third, fifth, sixth, ninth, tenth and eleventh teaching posts were earmarked for the general category, the fourth, eighth and twelfth vacancies for OBCs, the seventh for SCs, and the fourteenth for STs. A cycle of reservation was completed only after filling 14 vacancies. Besides, numerous single vacancies that could come up in departments will all be allocated to the general category.
While notifying 105 teaching posts in 2017, the University of Kerala had also implemented the 3%-reservation approved by the State government for Persons with Disabilities (PWD).
Official sources pointed out that while the manner in which the appointments were conducted ensured 50% (or nearly 50%) for the reserved sections, reverting to the process of considering teaching departments as separate units for fixing reserved posts would have led to a significant fall in this regard.
Going the previous methodology (which has now been virtually backed by the High Court), the number of ‘Open’ (or general category) posts would have been 32 of the 44 Assistant Professor posts that were notified. Of the remaining 12 reserved posts (i.e., only 27% of the total numbers of posts), ten would have gone to the Ezhava community and one each (8.3%) for Muslim and SC categories. Likewise, department-wise rotation would have brought down reservation in the Professor and Associate Professor categories to 3% and 23% respectively.
Lacunae in appointment process
Finding fault with the appointment process, a policy analyst, who requested anonymity, said that recruitments, selections and appointments should ideally be considered separately. While castes should not be stated in notifications during the recruitment process, the reservation roster must come into consideration only at a later stage of the appointment process. In case a reserved post does not find a suitable candidate, universities must re-notify such posts.
“However, most universities choose to disclose reserved posts for the sake of ensuring transparency and to avoid delays in filling up vacancies,” he said.
Pointing out that an appeal will be filed against the single-bench verdict, Kerala University Vice-Chancellor V.P. Mahadevan Pillai said that the previous system of appointments could never have fostered social justice as the existing one.
“While many appointments could be made from reserved sections, these included two postings made from the PWD category, a first in the university’s history since its inception in 1937. The system that was followed has potential to bring numerous people from the socially-disadvantaged groups to the mainstream of the academia,” Dr. Pillai said.
He added that the order has stalled the university’s efforts to re-notify the posts that remained unfilled during the previous appointment process.
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