Criteria to shortlist candidates for job must be rational: HC

Criteria to shortlist candidates for job must be rational: HC

The Bombay High Court has held that the criteria adopted by Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) for shortlisting candidates for the posts of statisticians in 2009 was not rational and proper.

Accordingly, a bench rejected MPSC's petition justifying criteria for shortlisting candidates for the posts.

MPSC's petition challenged a ruling of Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (MAT), which said the criteria adopted by MPSC for shortlisting candidates was not in conformity with the terms and conditions set out in the advertisement.

"A public authority is entitled to adopt or evolve criteria for shortlisting candidates it seeks to recruit. But these criteria must be rational, not whimsical or arbitrary; and, secondly, once set out, they must be consistently applied through to the end of the recruitment process," noted Justices G S Patel and Abhay Oak recently.

"The second facet seems as important as the first; uncertainty in setting standards always clouds the final result, and the present case is no different. We see no reason to interfere with the decision of the tribunal. The petition is, therefore, rejected," the judges remarked.

On February 13, 2009, MPSC issued an advertisement inviting applications for four posts of "Statistician, General State Service, Group-B" in Directorate of Medical Education and Research. One post was reserved for ST category, three were in open category, with one reserved for women.

The candidates were required to have a second class bachelor's degree with mathematics or science, plus a post graduate diploma in statistics from the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta, or the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, or any other recognised institution. They were also required to hold a master's degree in statistics or mathematics with statistics as special subject.

The terms and conditions in the ad allowed MPSC to give preference to those with more experience and specified the manner of gauging such experience.
There were 51 eligible candidates for two general category posts. MPSC's guidelines needed short-listing of 10 candidates. While preparing the short list, MPSC gave preference to those who had obtained higher marks in their PG degrees. For the post reserved for women in the open category, a different shortlisting criteria was adopted.

Bennishirur Vasim Ahmed (37), statistician in Solapur's Dr V M Government Medical College, was one of the applicants in the open general category. He had a master's degree in statistics. His name was not on the short-list while that of Mulje Sanjay Mallinath, also a statistician in the same college, featured at Sr No 12.

Bennishirur contended that he had more experience than his colleague Mulje, who was always junior to him. Bennishirur moved the MAT urging that his experience be given preference. MAT allowed his plea. This was challenged by MPSC in HC.

The only dispute before MAT was about criteria and method adopted by MPSC in preparing short list. MPSC's advertisement itself contemplated the preparation of such a short-list.

In its reply to petition before MAT, MPSC stated that its criteria for preparing the short-list was based on "higher educational qualification or marks/first class obtained at master degree level since candidates possessing higher educational qualifications or marks were available." However, a wholly different standard was applied to women candidates.

The HC judges said, "...these criteria do not conform to the terms of the advertisement, which nowhere suggests that higher marks might be used as a short-listing criterion. In our view, Bennishirur's counsel Swati Manchekar is correct when she submits — as she did before the MAT — that higher marks can never be equated with higher qualification".

The judges said the Supreme Court had set out two tests to determine the validity of a short-listing. The court must determine whether there exists a rational and objective basis for the short-listing. Also, when a shortlisting method is set out in a rule or ad, whether that method, and that method alone, has been followed.

"Bennishirur possesses master's degree with 12 years' experience. The ad recognises master's degree as qualification and says in short-listing, experience will be one of the factors to be considered. MPSC ignored his experience and short-listed candidates only by rank at master's degree level, a criterion never specified," the judges said.
"Clearly, this cannot be sustained, and MAT was, in our view, fully justified in repelling the MPSC's defence of its shortlisting criteria," the bench remarked.

Also, MPSC using a different criteria for men and women in the same category only makes matters worse, the bench ruled.

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