Karnataka HC verdict on RRB reserve list shows how government job aspirants suffer due to institutional apathy
If India really wants to deal with unemployment, then all institutions and bodies associated with employment ought to be thoroughly inspected by the State for any discrepancy in the process
After three years of clearing the Regional Rural Bank examination, indulging in a two-year-long legal battle and enduring two waves of lockdown without a secure livelihood -- the 12 petitioners along with all other eligible candidates of the 2017 batch are set to get the jobs that they meritoriously deserved three years back.
On 16 April, 2021, the Karnataka High Court ordered Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) and the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) to offer appointments to all eligible students of the 2017 RRB exams whose name appeared in the reserved list. In the course of the case, the court observed that more than 390 seats remained vacant that year, which was more than double the number of people on the reserved list.
IBPS is a premier organisation in the field of employment testing, providing its service to all public sector banks, RBI, NABARD, Regional Rural Banks among others. A probable reserve list consists of the 25 percent seats of the total vacancies, prepared for such scenarios where people qualified in the main list do not opt for the job, in which case banks fill the vacancies with candidates in the reserve list. This is an established norm in service-related jobs.
The results for the 2017 exam were declared on 31 January 2018. These results are valid for a term of one year until which, the eligible students can be offered allotment anytime. Candidates whose names appeared in the reserved list for Karnataka first rejoiced at the little chances of securing a government job. But the rejoice soon subsided into uncertainty for more than 100 aspirants when they were introduced to a reality where just clearing the exam was not enough.
When no allotment came until September, a candidate named Suman Saurabh from Muzaffarpur in Bihar sensed something strange. “I observed that not a single person had been selected from the Reserved List in Karnataka, one of the states with the most number of seats, even though other states regularly updated candidates from the reserved list,” he said.
Speculations led him to file an RTI in the offices of Karnataka Vikas Grameen Bank, Kaveri Grameen Bank and Pragati Krishna Grameen Bank which revealed to him that an ample number of seats were available. Help was sought from the secretary of the All India RRB employee association. But no respite came.
Later, online study groups and Whatsapp groups brought together 12 such students who, on 29 January 2019, just two days before the validity of their results were scheduled to expire, filed a writ petition in Karnataka High Court against the Union of India and the three RRBs mentioned above. Their journey is a tale of a miserable state of examination affairs at ground level.
“We obtained a stay order on 30 January 2019 so that the list stays alive. It was a simple submission before Justice R Devdas that since these candidates are qualified and so many seats are left vacant due to the non-joining of candidates from the main list, not upgrading the candidates from the reserve list is a violation of their fundamental rights and against the service law jurisprudence of reserve lists,” Shashank Shekhar, who worked closely with petitioners to put up a strong case by drafting the writ petition and filing all supporting documents to belie the case of the RRBs, said.
Further on, what began was a saga of revelations and objections and a long course to justice that was marked by two waves of pandemic and a question that, had the process taken shape fairly at the beginning itself, these candidates wouldn’t have faced the brunt of lockdown in a way that they had to.
Talking of lockdown, Kundan Kumar from Sheohar in Bihar remembers how he had been taking tuitions, which too stopped due to COVID-19, leaving him with no source of income in the dark times. “All you can do is imagine the amount and nature of problems that we’ve faced in three years.”
Kaushik Kunal from Ranchi added that the times became so difficult, especially for those who had reached the age limit for appearing in these examinations. “It had taken a mental toll on all of us. If somebody is taking a banking exam, he’s of course not from a big background. They can be small mistakes from the banks and concerned authorities, but for those who reach a position after working hard for two-three years, it’s a matter of life,” said Kunal.
The case was filed under Articles 226 and 227 of the Indian Constitution, which empowers the high court to issue directions to authorities. The petition also mentioned that banks worked in violation of Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution as the proceedings were a breach of petitioners' fundamental rights of equality and employment and hence a breach of the right to life.
Advocate Sunieta Ojha, who vehemently argued the case of the petitioners said, "IBPS has been successfully arguing before many high courts like those of Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, that being a private body, they are not amenable to 226 jurisdictions. Here, they did the same but we argued that they receive funds from government banks, and as far as banks are concerned, they are public bodies. We focused on discrepancies of banks too, because, in the end, the power of appointment of the eligible candidates lies with them.” In the first incident of its kind, IBPS’ claim was quashed by Justice Maheshan Nagaprasanna in the final order.
After being demanded of a detailed affidavit, the bank sent a written submission to the court, in which it was mentioned that the Karnataka Vikas Grameen Bank initially advertised for 450 seats out of which 106 seats were still vacant. Kaveri Grameen Bank advertised for 367 seats out of which 121 seats were vacant, and The Pragati Krishna Grameen Bank advertised for 731 seats out of which 164 seats remained vacant. Taken together, the vacancy was more than double the candidates in the reserved list.
RRB’s first pushed the blame to IBPS then said that the number of posts indented is only "indicative". The banks also said that no considerable bank expansion has been made in these years since their business position has come down and therefore they have not proceeded with indenting any candidates further. "
In the final order given on 16 April, 2021 by a single judge bench, Justice Nagaprasanna mentioned that banks’ actions are contradictory to their statements because in 2019-2020 a fresh notification was issued to IBPS by the banks, to recruit 1,350 new candidates, which included the vacancies left unfilled last year, therefore, quashing their argument that they didn’t require more staff.
The court stated that the banks presented a false statement in front of the court. Even though the petitioners did not have an indefeasible right, it observed, "The right of petitioners was available and the banks deliberately chose not to operate the reserve list." The court directed the Union of India and the RRBs involved in the matter to consider the case of the petitioners who are found eligible in the reserve list, "offer them appointments" and complete this "exercise" within three months from the date of issuance of this order.
Ojha said, "It will put a check on IBPS and banks who have been flouting the Reserved List, leading to a multiplicity of litigation all over India. Hopefully, with this judgment, IBPS will take the Reserve List seriously and not play with the career of people."
There is also economics fuelling this process, as exams were being conducted twice for the same set of vacancies, thereby doubling the enrollment fee collection.
In an extremely competitive environment of government exams, where job positions are already limited, any notification of selection is, therefore, a respite. Securing jobs is a student’s way forward towards financial stability in life, which also forms the basis for their emotional stability. The RRBs through their arbitrariness compromised on.
“The verdict is in our favour but the process has left us so faithless that until the allotment letter is in our hand, we can’t really rejoice. If wanted, they can still stop that from happening through a multi-division bench, or Supreme Court,” said Kunal.
India has been struggling with unemployment since its genesis as a nation. It’s always been an integral part of the discourse in Indian political spaces. If the country really wants to work towards the problem, then all the institutions and bodies associated with employment ought to be thoroughly inspected by the state for any discrepancy in the process. So that at the grassroots level, they operate to make lives easier, not difficult.
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