A total of 592 candidates qualified written exams for 141 faculty positions advertised in February 2014 by the country's premier fashion institute. Of these, 71 posts were filled by informing only 274 candidates, thereby denying interview opportunities to 318 qualified candidates including the exam toppers in different categories
National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) that sets the tone of fashion and design has found itself in the midst of a murky appointment scam. Country’s premier institute tossed established norms while appointing faculty members through dubious procedures.
The genesis of this scam dates back to February 2014 when the Congress-led UPA government was ruling at the Centre and before it relinquished office, after its electoral defeat in May 2014, it had set the stage for these back-door appointments. Their calculation was that dubious appointments of Assistant Professors at NIFT would not catch the nation's eye. Yet, thanks to RTI replies all discrepancies in faculty appointments are now under scanner.
NIFT was headed by Prem Kumar Gera who served as its Director General when this recruitment process was completed in a hurry. Despite our repeated attempts Gera remained unavailable for comments.
Information received through an RTI, filed by Gandhinagar-based Arbind Kumar shows that many eligible candidates who had qualified the written exam for the post of Assistant Professor were not even called for an interview while those who received lower marks were recruited.
In February 2014, NIFT invited applications towards recruitment of 141 Assistant Professors at all NIFT campuses that included 76 posts in the general category, 38 for OBCs, 17 for SCs and 10 for STs.
Written exams for the same was conducted on May 28, 2014 and a total of 592 candidates including 135 OBCs, 90 SCs and 22 candidates under the ST category qualified for interview.
NIFT fixed cut-offs arbitrarily and included 50% marks on the basis of interview and presentations.
This was in clear violation of Supreme Court orders that limits the interview marks below 15%. In cases such as Bishnu Biswas & Ors versus Union of India & Ors; the Constitution Bench judgment in Ajay Hasia etc versus Khalid Mujib Sehravardi & Ors, the apex court has clearly ruled against undue weight being given to interview marks in appointments.
Further, the marks given out in presentation were also given out arbitrarily hinting towards favouritism. A candidate named V Kumar was given 26.13 marks out of the total 25 marks in presentation while several other applicants who secured good marks in written exam were given only 2.83, 2.96, 3.42 marks in the interview including the presentation.
The entire recruitment process shows irregularities at other stages as well. Out of the total 592 candidates who qualified for the interview, only 274 were actually called for interview and the rest 318 were not even informed. 71 posts were filled through this procedure.
Similar was the fate of toppers in OBC, SC, ST and physically handicapped categories as they were not called for interview. For instance, Nalin Kumar who bagged 80% marks and secured first position in the written exams was not called for interview, whereas Divya Krishana, who ranked last (592th) in the written exam, got call for interview and was selected.
Examples abound where candidates obtaining 75% marks in written exam were overlooked in favour of those who could manage only 33% marks. These low-rankers were interviewed and were finally selected.
Ironically the top ten toppers in written test from the general, SC, ST and OBC category were not called for interview.
And this does not end here. There have been several other irregularities as well. Minimum eligibility criteria fixed by the UGC for faculty recruitment is qualification of the NET (National Eligibility Test), but it was conveniently ignored. Further, some candidates were selected even if they did not have minimum work experience. Not only this, one candidate, Rakesh Vetagire, claims to have appeared for the written exam, but as per the NIFT record he was absent.
Shocked candidates who did not get interview call filed RTIs. However, NIFT did not reply for about one year. It was only after the intervention of Appellate Authority and Chief Information Commissioner that they could get the desired information after 14 months. The first RTI in the matter was filed on August 10, 2014.
After careful perusal of information received through RTI, the agitated candidates approached some MPs and then the Union Minister of Textiles Santosh Kumar Gangwar in December 2015. Subsequently, a three member committee was constituted by NIFT to scrutinise the records of all 684 applicants.
“We hope justice would be done with us. We have been told that the inquiry committee is scrutinising all the applicants and the NIFT would call the eligible candidates for interview again,” said a candidate requesting anonymity.
Sudhir Tripathi, the present Director General, NIFT, who joined the institution in October 2015, pointed out that the three-member internal committee has submitted its report in first week of February and following the committee’s recommendations NIFT is going to provide an interview offer to the remaining candidates by April-end this year. “At least one non-official board member will now be present during the interview and the interview marks will be 15 and not 25 as was earlier. The presentation marks will be 35,” he told Organiser. However, he said the appointments already made will not be reviewed at the moment. He said efforts are being made to ensure full transparency in the recruitment process in future. Now, the selected candidates will be issued appointment letters only after the approval from the Board.
Industry insiders say that this recruitment scam is not a one off issue at NIFT. “Discrimination, nepotism and various wrongdoings have been going on at NIFT for a long time. If the recruitments made during the last one decade are investigated many wrongdoings will come into light,” said a NIFT alumnus requesting anonymity. Pramod Kumar