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Sachin Kumar & Ors. v. Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board (DSSSB) & Ors (2021) - Whether cancellation of Tier-I and Tier-II examinations was justifiable

Gnaneshwar Rajan ,
  24 March 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court of India
Brief :
This case deals with the cancellation of the Tier-I and Tier-II examinations held in 2009 for recruitment to the post of Head Clerk held by the Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board.
Citation :
REFERENCE: 2021 SC 128

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 3rd March, 2021.
JUDGES: D.Y. Chandrachud, M. R. Shah

PARTIES

  • Sachin Kumar & Ors. (Appellant)
  • Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board (DSSSB) & Ors. (Respondent)

SUMMARY: The following case deals with the cancellation of the Tier-I and Tier-II examinations held in 2009 for recruitment to the post of Head Clerk held by the Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board by the Delhi High Court, which had affirmed the ruling of the Central Administrative Tribunal and cancelled the examinations.

OVERVIEW

1. On 26 December 2009, DSSSB issued an advertisement2 inviting applications for various posts.

2. The scheme of the examination comprised of:

a. Tier-I – a preliminary examination for shortlisting candidates for the main examination. This was an objective type test carrying 200 marks and for a duration of 2.5 hours; and
b. Tier-II – the main examination which was of a descriptive type carrying 200 marks for a duration of 2.5 hours.

3. Between 14 October 2014 and 27 March 2015, complaints were received by the DSSSB as to serious irregularities in the conduct of Tier-I and Tier-II examinations alleging:

(i) leakage of question papers;
(ii) mass cheating;
(iii) allotment of common examination centers and rooms to members of the same family; and
(iv) impersonation of candidates.

4. The Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi constituted a committee on 22 August 2015 consisting of the Director (Vigilance) and District Magistrate (East) to enquire into the complaints regarding irregularities in the conduct of the Tier-I and Tier-II examinations.

5. The Committee arrived at the prima facie conclusion that there were serious irregularities, including cheating and impersonation both in the course of the Tier-I screening examination and Tier-II main examination.

6. The Committee opined that the examination should have been cancelled at the stage of declaring the Tier-I result and the matter should be referred to the Economic Offences Wing / Crime Branch of Delhi Police for a thorough investigation.

7. Following the recommendation of the Deputy Chief Minister, a notification was issued on 15 March 2016 for the cancellation of the selection process.

8. An application was filed before the Central Administrative Tribunal by three candidates aggrieved by the failure of the DSSSB. In their representation, these candidates had contended that allegations as to irregularities were made by unsuccessful candidates hoping to get another chance to write the examination.

9. The Tribunal accordingly set aside the order dated 15 March 2016 cancelling the selection process clarifying that the appointments to be offered to the successful candidates would be subject to the ACB investigation.

10. Appeals were filed by both the DSSSB under the provisions of Art. 226 of the Constitution and intervention petitions were filed by candidates who had not initiated proceedings in the tribunal. The candidates seeking intervention before the High Court claimed to be successful in the examination and submitted that they would be adversely affected if the High Court were to allow the petitions and upheld the cancellation of the recruitment process.

11. The High Court dismissed the application for intervention and affirmed the decision of the tribunal.

12. Aggrieved by the decision of the High Court, the DSSSB filed appeals before the Supreme Court.

13. Special leave petitions under Art. 136 of the Constitution were filed by persons who had neither moved the Tribunal in the first instance nor had attempted intervention in the High Court


ISSUES

The following issues were analyzed by the Supreme Court:

  • Whether the decision of the High Court was valid.
  • Whether appeals by the DSSB and the Delhi Government can be allowed.
  • Whether the notification issued cancelling the examinations can be upheld.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS

ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGMENT

  1. The counsel for the applicants urged that the decision of the Tribunal to set aside the cancellation of the selection process is eminently fair and proper.
  2. The counsel stated that the six candidates who had approached the Tribunal and to whom relief has been confined by the High Court need not be required to appear at the Tier-II examinations once the cancellation of the results has been set aside.
  3. He further argued that for candidates who had not moved the tribunal, benefit of the order setting aside the cancellation of the recruitment process must ensure to all candidates who have been found to be free of taint.
  4. The counsel further elaborated upon the fact that DSSSB had in its recommendation indicated that there was no systematic flaw or irregularity in the recruitment process.
  5. The counsel argued that a fair and reasonable process of selection to posts subject to the norm of equality of opportunity under Article 16(1) is a constitutional requirement. A fair and reasonable process is a fundamental requirement of Article 14 as well.
  6. The Additional Solicitor General, appearing on behalf of the DSSSB, argued that the entire recruitment process was found to be tainted by fraud as a consequence of which it became impossible to disentangle the tainted from the untainted candidates.
  7. He argued further that this resulted ultimately in the cancellation of the entire process as it was found to be beyond redemption.
  8. He contended that the grant of relief by the Tribunal was clearly not justified. He argued that the Tribunal failed to apply its mind to the deficiencies which were noticed in the Tier-I examination, and this error has affected the judgment of the High Court as well.
  9. The court, however, on hearing both sides, upheld the notification for cancellation of the examinations. The court ordered the DSSSB to take adequate measures to ensure against the recurrence of such instances which erode the credibility of and public confidence in the recruitment process.
  10. The court directed the authorities to undertake a comprehensive exercise to revisit the modalities and safeguards within a period of two months to “ensure that the probity of the recruitment process in future is maintained.

CONCLUSION

The crux of the case is dependent on whether or not the cancellation of the examinations is a justifiable act.

Here, the present case hinges on the analysis of the maintainability of the decisions given by the tribunal and the High Court. The Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of the aforementioned bodies. The requirement that a public body must act in fair and reasonable terms animates the entire process of selection. The decisions of the recruiting body are hence subject to judicial control subject to the settled principle that the recruiting authority must have a measure of discretion to take decisions in accordance with law which are best suited to preserve the sanctity of the process. Now it is in the backdrop of these principles, that it becomes appropriate to advert to the precedents of this Court which hold the field.

Over four decades ago, in Bihar School Examination Board v. Subhas Chandra Sinha & Others1 , a three-judge bench dealt with a case involving a challenge to the decision to cancel the annual secondary school examination in relation to a particular centre in a district in Bihar. The High Court had quashed the action on the ground that the examinees were not furnished with a show cause and the materials on which the Chairperson relied to pass the order were not disclosed.

The decision of a three-judge bench in Anamica Mishra v. UP Public Service Commission, Allahabad2 involved recruitment to various posts in the educational services of the State of Uttar Pradesh. There was a two-stage recruitment involving a written test and interview. It was found that after the written examination, due to the improper feeding of data into the computer, some candidates who had a better performance in the written examination were not called for interview and candidates who secured lesser marks were not only called for the interview but were finally selected. The court held that the cancellation of the entire recruitment process was held not to be justified since there was no systemic flaw in the written test, and the issue was only with regard to calling the candidates for the interview. The situation could have been remedied by setting aside the selection made after the interview stage and calling for a fresh interview of all eligible candidates. This is the ultimate direction which was issued by the Court.


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