Youth Aspirations, Ground Reality and A Disappointing Offer: SRO-202
Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to do away with SRO-202 has come as a big relief to the thousands of unemployed educated youth.
By: Kanwal Singh
Jammu and Kashmir, a state with a sizable working-age youth population, is naturally aspirational despite the limited circumstances. Due to the rigid provisions of Article 370 and Article 35A, whereas other states in India had progressed in terms of the job market by having an established private sector offering a major chunk of the jobs, Jammu and Kashmir has lagged behind over the years and lacks a strong private sector that can balance out the employment demands in the valley.
An average degree that takes 3 years to complete, is completed in no less than 5-6 years in the conflict-ridden Union Territory of J&K. Moreover, because of the irregularities and discrepancies in the functioning of the recruitment institutions and flawed job policies, a single examination process takes years to conclude. As noted in the case in the recruitment process for the post of Naib Tehsildar and Patwari, the posts of which were advertised in the year 2015-2016, the process got concluded only recently, in 2020. A recent survey conducted by Former Governor, Shri Satyapal Malik revealed that more than three lakh post-graduates are unemployed in the erstwhile state and recruitments, if any, are limited to the government sector only.
With the apparent intention to attend to the concerns of the youth, the BJP-PDP coalition government pushed through an amendment to the J&K Special Recruitment Rules in 2015 called SRO 202, an order that sought to facilitate fast track recruitment to various government posts through competitive examinations. As it turns out, this was another one of those patchwork efforts of the government for quick problem solving that appears decisive as a move in the beginning but falls through soon enough where implementation and assessment of its constitutional validity is concerned.
As it stands now, many of the recruitment examinations took years to be concluded besides leading the youth to finally end up in jobs where they found themselves struggling due to lack of service benefits that were offered to others of the same post recruited right before the implementation of SRO 202. To add to the misery of the sufferers, the J&K Appointment to Class-IV Special Recruitment Rules 2020 lay down that the criteria and rules for recruitment into Class-IV posts will still be covered under SRO 202.
Post the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A when all other laws and constitutional provisions were repealed then the question arises why the unconstitutional provision of SRO 202 was not repealed? The unemployed and employed youth who have been struggling with this recruitment policy find themselves trapped and helpless as the government has shown no determination to resolve the issue or even provide a redressal mechanism for their legitimate concerns. It is in this context that it becomes important to provide a more in-depth analysis of the perils of this unequal policy and the ensuing justifiable need to repeal the order at the earliest.
The Offer as made: SRO 202, the Problematics
SRO 202, an amendment to the J&K special recruitment rules of 2015, defined a new set of service rules for all the employees to be recruited prospectively after its implementation in 2015. Under Rule (8) of SRO 202, any new employee recruited under this provision was forced to spend a mandatory and necessary probation period of five years. Rule (9) of SRO 202 provides that during the period of the first five years, the appointee shall be entitled to a minimum scale of pay i.e a meagre amount of Rupees 5000 to 7000 in addition to their grade pay applicable for the post against which the employee has been appointed.
After completing the mandatory probation period of five years his/her service will be declared as permanent subject only after the passing of such tests or successfully undergoing training provided under J&K civil services Rules, 1956. Further, under Rule (10) of SRO 202, the newly recruited candidate will not be entitled to receive all the allowances and service benefits during the probation period of five years. These allowances include Dearness Allowance, HRA, CCA, and annual increments in salary. It is also to be noted that during the probation period of five years, the candidate will also not be eligible for any transfer. It is not only insensitive but also inconvenient that a candidate recruited under SRO 202 and serving in remote areas is completely devoid of all kinds of incentives and benefits.
While drawing comparisons with the Recruitment Rules applicable in other States and UTs it is pertinent to mention that even under the recruitment policies of states like Punjab and Union Territory of Pondicherry the mandatory probation periods for recruitment into non-gazetted posts is three and two years but the nature of the provision is neither discriminatory nor the newly recruited candidate is devoid of any service benefits. As per Punjab Civil Service Rule, October 2016 the mandatory probation period for Punjab government employees will be three years. Similarly, the Ministry of Home Affairs by exercising its power issued the notification No. 1/11/65- DH(S) thereby defining a new set of rules for Pondicherry and fixed the mandatory probation period of two years for Grade 1 and Grade II service. In this context, the order SRO 202 notably also outrightly disregards and flouts the J & K Civil Services Rules of 1956 which provides for a probation period of 2 years only.
As is evident from the provisions of the order, the recruits to the various advertised posts suffer at work with respect to an outright disregard for the principle of “Equal Pay for Equal Work”, deemed a necessary guideline for employment mandates enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy, Part IV of the Indian Constitution.
It also violates the Fundamental Rights of Right to Equality and Right to Equal opportunity in Employment enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In this context, the harsh conditions for employment without any benefits impact young recruits negatively as they suffer from career stagnation alongside the dissatisfaction of unequal terms of work.
Suggestions by J&K State law commission
On 13 Nov 2019, the State law commission under Retd Justice Hanjura submitted a detailed report to Chief Secretary of J&K, BVR Subramaniam. The report suggested some recommendations for making amendments in the said rules. The State law commission recommended that the probation period of employees recruited under SRO 202 must be reduced to two years. This decision will not only be in tune or in line with the office memorandum No. 28020/2010- Estt (C) issued by GOI, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions (DOPT) but will also be in consonance with the evolved principles of Justice and Equality.
The state law commission also came down heavily on the makers of SRO 202 and said:
“The elite of the erstwhile state of J&K have lived a life of which even the Vikramaditya and Mughals would not have dreamed of but to the contrary they kept the Sword of Damocles on the sets of employees recruited under SRO 202”.
This amendment that has been in force since 2015, has seen demonstrative protests highlighting public opinion regarding the matter and have seen in attendance many recruits to the posts that came under the clauses. Though the recruits are well within their rights to lobby for their cause and express dissent because of their experience of implementation of the policy, it is important to note that 8 of the protestors who are the recruits have been issued show-cause notice for challenging the order.
The protests echoed what the best legal minds in the country have reiterated time and again only to fall on deaf ears.”I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it”, these moral principles of democracy and one’s right to defend his/her rights becomes meaningless in the context of the treatment meted out to the suffering protestors.
They say that political representatives will often dictate the terms for what is implemented in any context. This could be demonstrated by the fact that a similar single salary mode policy was enacted in 2011, but was scrapped by the state cabinet following massive public demand. Public opinion was heeded then.
But as it appears, the climate of democracy seems to have changed over time. After years of protest and nationwide resentment, finally on 27th February 2020 a committee headed by Chief Secretary of J&K was appointed to examine the Special Recruitment Rules, 2015 i.e SRO 202 and based on the report the committee was asked to take the required decision. It has been three months already and we are yet to see the report emerge. This classic case seems to reinforce the truth of the British maxim that committees are appointed to divert public attention.
A new political transition demands justifiable policy revaluation with an essential consideration of facilitating more confidence in the government services and the social security facilities offered to the youth for the path ahead. It takes a far-sighted, insightful and sensitive policymaker to take cognizance of the concerns of the youth and to consider building trust by conceding to important public demands like the one related to the repeal of the order and the need for re-assessment of recruitment policies overall, to cater to the evolving political and economic reality of the newly formed Union Territory.
It is important to note how frontline workers in the COVID 19 situation who are fresh recruits are suffering from the in-considerate provisions which barely enable them to meet their day to day needs, leave alone provide enough support for the undeniably valuable service that they are rendering in the given circumstances.
It is hoped that in the interest of the future of Jammu and Kashmir, the concerns of the youth who are expected to handle operations and implementation of most administrative tasks in the valley in the future, will be taken into account and this order will be repealed to serve the cause of justice and equality for all.