Salary withheld of 133 ‘blacklisted’ employees for 6 yrs now, even as they performed duties through the Covid pandemic; multiple official committees set up, only to disagree with one another
Srinagar: Ten years after the surfacing of illegal appointments in health department of Kashmir, a final call is yet to be taken on the 2,274 employees under the scanner, even after multiple audits conducted by the department, while 133 blacklisted among them have been left without any salary, despite rendering their services without pay for the last 6 years.
In 2012, the case of illegal appointments had surfaced in the Department of Health Services, Kashmir, after a special audit conducted by the Audit and Inspection Department found that 2,274 fresh appointees in the health department were made in violation of recruitment rules.
Among them, 216 illegal appointments were identified in Srinagar, 259 in Budgam, 83 in Pulwama, 153 in Kupwara, 160 in Bandipora, 97 in Ganderbal, 190 in Kulgam, 81 in Shopian, 509 in Baramulla and 526 in Anantnag. While examining their records, the special audit committee found that the appointments were made dishonestly and fraudulently, especially by the then Chief Medical Officer and Block Medical Officers in each district, by flouting the recruitment norms with the regularisation of contractual employees working in the department without any prior advertisement and confirmation from the competent authority.
Following which, the health department had constituted one divisional level and district level committees to ascertain the facts on the issue of illegal appointments. However, in their report, both of them concluded that the CMOs in question were competent enough to make appointments against Class IV posts, citing the government direction vide Order No.1786-GAD of 1997, which empowered the heads of the department to make such appointments.
Accordingly, the government had passed relevant directions in the favour of employees expect 133 of them, whose appointments it said were found to be illegal and immediate action, including ceasing of their salary, was deemed fit.
Since the observations of the internal departmental committees were in contrast with the report of the Audit and Inspection Department, which categorised all 2,274 of them as “illegal” appointees, the government asked the health department to take up the matter with them to drop the observations raised by them. But, so far, the department is yet to drop the charges against 133 employees.
The blacklisted employees had approached the court terming the report as ‘hollow’ and ‘selective’, aimed at targeting a particular group of employees and making them scapegoats, to cover up the entire appointment fiasco.
“There has been a major onslaught on a selected group of employees. The committee has failed to come up with a fair probe in this matter and act accordingly. We have been made victims unnecessarily out of a huge number of appointees. We had no other option but to knock the doors of court,” Mohd Maqbool, one of the aggrieved health employees, told Kashmir Reader.
Coming to their rescue, the court stayed their disengagement order and directed the health department to revisit the audit report and release the pending salaries in their favour. Although the salaries of blacklisted employees were paid till March 2016, but later it was stopped again, even as the department continues to avail their services continuously.
In the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, employees lamented, they have been working round the clock without any breaks and assisting the efforts of government to combat the virus, without thinking of their safety, and for nothing in return.
“In the deadly waves of Covid-19, we risked our lives and remained at our duties always. All this for the sake of nothing. We’ve been left deprived of our legitimate wages. The government has turned a blind eye towards us. We have been moving from pillar to post since long, but no one listens to us,’’ Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, who has been rendering his services to the health department for the past 25 years, told Kashmir Reader.
Nearly a decade after the issue of illegal appointments came into the limelight, the J&K government is still undecided about the fate of the blacklisted employees. The health department, since then, has set up multiple audit committees to scrutinise all of the 2,274 appointees, but the observations made in each report point to the dissimilarities and flaws in previous reports.
As per the audit report of 2019, amongst the 133 appointees, the department found that the grounds for their categorisation under “illegal appointments” were similar to that of those treated as legal appointments in the total list of 2,274 appointees. “Amongst the 133 appointees, there are many officials who were appointed in very similar circumstances as those who have been treated as legally appointed amongst the 2,274 identified,’’ reads the report, in possession of Kashmir Reader.
Giving the evidence of 20 employees, it further reads, “the following are some of the officials out of 2,274 illegal appointees cleared by the district committee constituted by the department in District Anantnag and the remarks mentioned against each is proof to the fact that all these employees are falling within the same category when their grounds be decided as that of the 133 illegal appointments.”
Haneefa Akhter, a female health employee posted in Anantnag district, told Kashmir Reader that she is just short of two years of achieving the age of retirement even though her salary continues to remain stopped under what she called “dubious grounds”.
“I’m approaching retirement while the government is starving us of our livelihood. I’ve dedicated my precious 20 years to the department so far, but there’s no acknowledgment of our selfless services. All other employees, falling in our category, are enjoying the perks and privileges, yet we as the lesser and poorer human beings are being victimised and reduced to mere bonded labourers,” Akhter said.
A recent audit report of 2021, while highlighting the services of the 133 illegal appointees during Covid-19 pandemic, has recommended the release of all legitimately earned wages in their favour, pointing out that their families were left at the verge of starvation despite them facing the onslaught of Covid-19 in the line of duty. “The government may take a policy decision in the matter to settle this issue once for all or take a view as one time exception by absorbing them as health sector is in dire need of human resource,’’ the report, which lies in the possession of Kashmir Reader, reads.
It further added that the committee was of the unanimous opinion that the recommendations of the committee constituted earlier in 2019 be implemented, so that there is common justice with all the 2,274 employees including the 133, “as we cannot discriminate against only 133 employees”.
“There is a strong possibility of having more than 2,000 similarly circumstanced officials in the list of 2,274 identified by audit and in the interest of justice all of them have to be given equal treatment,’’ it added, while referring to the recommendations of the previous committee.
However, the observations of multiple audit reports have remained restricted to papers, with the government failing to reach a viable conclusion to end the long pending deadlock. The audit committees are repeated one after the other, from time to time, only to furnish details of no avail. Even though, as per the health department, the intervention of court has raised obstacles in the process, but the department at its end, given the multiple audit reports, seems to be inconclusive about deciding the fate of all 2,274 appointees.
Pertinently, on Thursday last week, the health department again impressed upon the CMOs of different Kashmir districts to furnish the complete requisite information in respect of the 2,274 appointees in a time-bound manner. Sources said that the latest direction has been sent after a few districts failed to furnish the details last year, citing the exigency arising out of Covid-19.
Responding to the fresh direction, Dr Bashir Chalkoo, Deputy Director Health Services, Kashmir, told Kashmir Reader that there was nothing unusual about it, as this was part of routine departmental exercise regarding various pending matters.
“The direction has drawn undue media attention; it is just part of an ongoing process and has been going on since long. We’ve sought details in a previous matter. Self- assumptions should be avoided,’’ he said.
When asked about the official indecisiveness protracting the matter, Chalkoo replied that the matter was sub judice and the department was keen to find a robust solution as soon as possible. “The issue has been mired in court cases, litigations and other impediments. We’re working and following up on all such parameters. Hopefully, the solution is around soon,’’ he said.