Kerala High Court: A Division Bench of V. Chitambaresh and Ashok Menon, JJ. contemplated a writ petition where the question raised was related to the written exam conducted by Kerala Public Service Commission in 2015 for the recruitment to the post of Food Safety Officer. Commission had challenged the impugned order of the Administrative Tribunal which directed for a revised list.

The disputed question before the Tribunal was, “In a standard Fruit jam, the content of total soluble solids should not be less than:” four options were given for the questions and answer published by the Commission was alleged incorrect to which the candidate had raised an objection. The learned counsel for the respondent-candidates relied on the query dated 16-5-2016 and the answer elicited under the Right to Information Act, 2016 from the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India. It was submitted that answer referred to Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011 wherein standards of Jam are prescribed. According to which the correct option of the answer was not the one published by the Commission. The list of candidates was published and the interview commenced, subsequently, the final ranked list was published by the PSC. Respondents preferred the original applications before the Kerala Administrative Tribunal which sought to publish a revised ranked list. The respondents contended that they would have secured higher ranks if the correct answer (c) was accepted for awarding marks to the candidates in the written test. The respondents, however, did not choose to implead anyone in the ranked list at least in a representative capacity after paper publication though many in the ranked list would be prejudicially affected.

The Tribunal by impugned order in original petitions directed the petitioner-PSC to take appropriate measures to effect changes in the ranked list and to accept the answer (c) as the correct one. Commission thus, challenged the impugned order of the Tribunal.

The PSC in the meantime obtained an expert opinion from a relevant authority in the subject matter. It was indicated by the Expert that both the answers i.e one provided by the Commission and one the candidates alleged were acceptable and were in conformity. The petitioner relied upon the judgment of Supreme Court in Ran Vijay Singh v. State of U.P., (2018) 2 SCC 357, where the Court held that, “In the event of a doubt, the benefit should go to the examination authority rather than to the candidate.”

The Court observed that, the answer provided by the Commission is not far off the mark, further they relied on the expert opinion which suggested that both answers were acceptable. A genuine doubt raised as to the correctness of the answer key and the court in that event should give the benefit of doubt to the examination authority – PSC. It further emphasized that although it was submitted that about 90 candidates had already been advised by the PSC even before the preferring of the original applications by the respondents before the Tribunal, none of those who are in the ranked list have been impleaded even as eo nomine parties in the original applications which are bad for non-joinder of necessary parties. The decision in Rajesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, (2013) 4 SCC 690, was distinguishable inasmuch as the challenge therein was well before the appointment. The Court stated that rank list without those included therein being impleaded as party respondents at least in a representative capacity is impermissible in law. The Tribunal ought to have presumed the correctness of the answer key and should have extended the benefit of doubt to the PSC and dismissed the original applications for non-joinder as well. Hence, the order of Tribunal was set aside.[Kerala Public Service Commission v. Vimal C.A, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 1676, decided on 28-05-2019]

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