Del HC | Cancellation of UPSC interviews is not to be viewed solitarily as a one-off incident, represents a deeper malaise in selection: Read Verdict on cancellation of UPSC interviews

Delhi High Court: Prathiba M. Singh, J., while addressing the grievance of UPSC aspirants in regard to cancellation of interviews to be held by the Selection Committee observed that,

Selection to the civil services, especially the IAS – a coveted service, cannot be a whimsical process. It has to follow certain norms, procedures and discipline.

Background

20 Non-State Civil Service Officers of the State of Rajasthan aspirants for the appointment of Indian Administrative Service of Rajasthan Cadre filed the present petition in the Non-SCS Category.

Purpose of filing the present petition was to challenge the letter issued by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC)/ Respondent 1, in accordance to which interviews scheduled by the Selection Committee was cancelled.

Analysis and Findings

Bench stated that it is only considering the question of maintainability of the present petition and three aspects of maintainability i.e.

  • Territorial Jurisdiction of this Court to hear the writ petition
  • Forum non-conveniens
  • Availability of an alternate remedy in the form of CAT under Section 14 of the Central Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985

Territorial jurisdiction:

The primary grievance of the petitioner is against the Central Government and the UPSC and not the State of Rajasthan. Interviews that were to be taken place in Delhi.

This Court clearly had territorial jurisdiction, since the cause of action arose within the territory of Delhi and further because of the fact that both the UPSC and Central Government are within the jurisdiction of this court.

Forum non-conveniens:

Insofar as forum non-conveniens is concerned, the said principle is merely applied in order to determine the most convenient forum, with respect to the dispute.

Bench stated that due to hearings and transmission of records being virtual in any case, because of the pandemic, this Court does not feel compelled to reject this writ petition on the ground of forum non-conveniens.

Availability of alternate remedy:

Whether the Petitioners ought to be relegated to CAT, Jaipur Bench, to avail of their remedies under Section 14 of the Act?

In Savitur Prasad v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 12297, Division Bench observed as under:

“It is also trite to state that the scope of interference by a High Court in service matters and disciplinary proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, is permissible only in cases of demonstrable lack of jurisdiction and perversity.”
Bench in the instant matter observed that High Courts have power to exercise jurisdiction, even if there is an alternative remedy inter alia on several grounds:
  1. If there is a violation of the Principles of Natural Justice;
  2.  If there are unprecedented or extraordinary circumstances that warrant exercise of jurisdiction under Art.226;
  3. The need to render substantial justice;
  4. If the act complained against is patently erroneous or perverse;
  5. If there is demonstrable lack of jurisdiction or perversity;
  6. If relegating the parties to CAT would not render substantial justice.
  7. The exercise of power under Article 226 is discretionary and depends on the question whether circumstances warrant;

While applying the above principles, the decisions of different courts are disparate and depend on the facts and circumstances of each case.

Court held that in the present case certain unusual and extraordinary circumstances are present.

Further, the Court added that, petitioners were left to suffer as the interviews were cancelled less than 24 hours before the scheduled time. Thus there appears to be some merit in the allegation of breach of Principles of Natural Justice as the Petitioners were never given an opportunity to deal with the allegations.

“…it is the settled position that the alternate remedy has to also be an efficacious remedy.”

Relegating the Petitioners to approach CAT would lead to further delays in their candidature being considered for selection to the IAS.

Supreme Court has in its recent decision on 7-10-2020, in Commissioner of Police v. Umesh Kumar, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 810 observed that irregularities in public recruitment have become a bane, leading to litigation in both Courts and Tribunals across the country.

Court in view of the above analysis made an observation that,

The cancellation of interviews as in the present case is not to be viewed solitarily as a one-off incident. It represents a deeper malaise in the selection, which ought to be conducted fairly and in a transparent manner.

When the Court finds that the selection mechanism is being impeded, successively, it cannot turn a blind eye.

Present case would require interference by the exercise of writ jurisdiction in order to examine as to whether the prescribed norms for selection were adhered to, and if not, then, to consider the remedial measures. The circumstances in the present case accordingly warrant interference under Article 226 of the Constitution. [Akul Bhargava v. UPSC, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 1376, decided on 09-10-2020]

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