Alleging that norms were violated to favour the appointment of a particular researcher in Haffkine Institute, two organisations have come together to file a writ petition in the Bombay High Court against the medical education and drugs department, Haffkine Institute and its current director in-charge Dr Nishigandha Naik. The case will come up for hearing in the High Court on Wednesday.
The organisations in question are 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. Documents accessed by The Indian Express show that Naik, currently assistant director and holding additional charge as the institute’s director, proposed amendments in eligibility criteria rules for the director’s post to be able to qualify for the post.
The writ petition challenges the “amendments in rules for recruitment to suit eligibility” of Naik, daughter of Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik. The Shramik Utkarsh Sabha has urged the HC to quash the amendment in the service entry rules and remove Nishigandha Naik from her post.
Nishigandha Naik said, “The matter is in court and sub-judice, it would not be fair to comment on the issue. I will give my answers in court.”
As per the documents, the Haffkine Institute published three advertisements for the post of director in 2015 and 2016. Among the list of qualifications were: a candidate must have 15 original research papers and doctoral degree in one of the fields— microbiology, parasitology, pathology, bacteriology, entomology, pharmacology and biochemistry. Another criteria required 15 years of experience in a research institute in organising and guiding research. In the last advertisement in December 2016, 16 researchers applied, of which 14 were eligible.
According to senior officials at the medical education and drugs department, as per her resume Naik holds only 14 original research papers to her name and a doctoral degree in biology. She was not among the shortlisted candidates after she did not meet the eligibility criteria.
The writ petition highlights that Rs 17 lakh was spent by the Maharashtra government on three advertisements but no appointment was made by the medical education and drugs department despite having several eligible candidates.
Sanjay Mukherjee, Secretary, medical education and drugs department, said, “I don’t know about the 2015 and 2016 advertisement for director’s post or why they were not filled.” Mukherjee took over as Secretary on October 1 this year. “Since the matter is sub-judice we cannot comment,” he added.
According to the documents, in April 2017, after getting additional charge of director, Naik became a member of the governing council of Haffkine Institute. 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 amended rules, approved by the governing council, made her fit to apply for the director’s post.
The proposed rules allowed an applicant to have a doctoral degree in applied biology, 10 original research papers in scientific journals instead of 15, and 10 years of experience in research institute instead of 15.
An additional qualification stating “candidates having patents will be preferred” was inserted. Naik holds 27 patents so far.
“While the Medical Education Minister (Girish Mahajan) approved most amendments, the clause that applicant with patent will be preferred was removed. The minister realised the patent clause will make several candidates ineligible,” a senior official in the medical education department said.
An updated advertisement for the director’s post was released by the Directorate of Medical Education and Research again in July this year. Of nine candidates who have applied, Naik is one who fits all eligibility requirements.