Relaxing rules to allegedly benefit a particular candidate, the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER) last month published another advertisement for the post of director of Haffkine Institute, six months after an advertisement inviting applications was published. Last year, a trade union and an association at the Haffkine Institute had moved the Bombay High Court alleging that amendments had been made in the eligibility criterion to ensure Dr Nishigandha Naik, director in-charge at Haffkine, was eligible for the post of Haffkine director.
Documents accessed by The Indian Express show the latest advertisement relaxes the age limit for candidates. The previous advertisement published in July 2018 fixed the maximum age at 55 years as per government rules. The modified advertisement (December 15, 2018) states, “The upper age limit is relaxed up to 55 years or any age limit decided by government from time to time, unless already in government/ semi-government service.”
“After the first advertisement was published, government communicated to us that further modifications are required. Therefore, we had to publish a second advertisement. Those who applied earlier will continue to remain eligible,” said Dr Pravin Shingare, director, DMER.
The modification allows Dr Nishigandha Naik to become eligible for the post. Naik, daughter of UP governor Ram Naik, is 57 years old. When contacted, Naik had refused to comment stating the matter is sub-judice.
Officials with the Medical Education and Drugs department said they had forgotten to publish all amended rules, and were reminded through a mail by the institute’s director in-charge (Naik) to republish advertisement with all amendments.
Following the government move, Shramik Utkarsh Sabha, a trade union of Class III and IV employees of the institute with 96 members, and the Haffkine Institute Officers Association, which comprises researchers and scientists working at the institute, are set to add supplementary documents to the writ petition they had filed before the Bombay High Court challenging the amended qualifications for director’s post.
“The amendment to service entry rules were made to favour a particular candidate. The amendments were introduced by that candidate herself. We are demanding a stay,” said Vijay Kam-ble, secretary of Shramik Sabha.
Documents accessed under Right to Information (RTI) by The Indian Express indicate a conflict of interest, as Naik proposed amendments in the institute’s governing council that made her eligible for the director’s post.
As per the documents, Haffkine Institute published three advertisements for the post of director in 2015 and 2016. The qualifications mandated that a candidate must have 15 original research papers, doctoral degree in one of the fields — microbiology, parasitology, pathology, bacteriology, entomology, pharmacology and biochemistry — and 15 years of experience in a research institute in organising and guiding research.
In April 2017, Naik, then assistant director at Haffkine, got charge of the institute’s director and became a member of the governing council. In a letter dated January 9, 2018, Naik proposed to the medical education and drugs secretary to amend the eligibility rules for the director’s post.
The proposed rules allowed an applicant to have a doctoral degree in applied biology apart from other specialisations, 10 original research papers in scientific journals instead of 15, and 10 years of experience in a research institute instead of 15. Naik fit the eligibility criteria.
The writ petition questions whether an additional director holding temporary charge of director and also contesting for the director’s post “can propose amendment of the existing Service Rules and Regulations to make herself eligible and qualified for the recruitment of the post of Director”.
The premier research institute, where plague and cholera vaccines have been produced, has not had a full-time director since 2012. While advertisements have been published in May 2015, November 2016 and December 2016, no appointments were made. In the latest advertisement, nine candidates have applied, including Naik.