Does State Employer has the choice on who should enter its service? Supreme Court decides

Supreme Court: The Bench of K.M. Joseph and S. Ravindra Bhat, JJ. while addressing the matter, observed that,

Public service – like any other, pre-supposes that the state employer has an element of latitude or choice on who should enter its service. Norms, based on principles, govern essential aspects such as qualification, experience, age, number of attempts permitted to a candidate, etc. These, broadly constitute eligibility conditions required of each candidate or applicant aspiring to enter public service.

Appellant (Commissioner of Police, Delhi) on being aggrieved by the Delhi High Court decision by which the respondents were directed to be considered for appointed to the post of Constable of Delhi Police, filed the present appeal.

Factual Background

In the year 2009, an advertisement was issued wherein applications were invited for the cadre of constable in the Delhi Police.

Applicant Deepa Tomar in her application did not disclose the fact that she was facing criminal trial and the criminal cases were ended in compromise. Standing Committee while assessing the suitability of the candidates deferred Deepa Tomar’s consideration as she was facing trial in criminal proceedings and was charged with committing the offence of kidnapping under Section 364 of Penal Code, 1860.

Division Bench of High Court allowed the petitions of the candidate and quashed their rejection.

Analysis, Law and Decision

Bench noted on perusal of the Standing Order along with Annexure-A that in relation to certain offences, acquittal or exoneration of an accused candidate, per se would not entitle her or him to consideration.

Upon an overall analysis of the Standing Order, this Court is of the opinion that an acquittal or discharge in a criminal proceeding would not per se enable the candidate to argue that the authorities can be compelled to select and appoint her or him.

Decisions for Individual case:

Civil Appeal arising from SLP(C) 13285/2014 (Raj Kumar)

The Screening Committee went through the case records and noted that a compromise was recorded with the approval of the Court with respect to two offences whereas, in the graver offences, the candidate stood trial but was acquitted on account as there was not sufficient evidence and that “material witnesses” did not support the prosecution story.

In Court’s opinion, the compromise recorded in respect of the offences, that were compounded (and the acquittal for lack of evidence) is apparently so on account of material witnesses not appearing or turning hostile, was a relevant factor that the Screening Committee could and did consider.

Shiv Singh

Shiv Singh, respondent, in another case was accused of committing offences punishable under Sections 323, 341, 325, 34 IPC.

The Screening committee considered the charge sheet and the order of the trial court, and having regard to the nature of offences involved, was of the view that the candidate was not suitable, because of his propensity to indulge in such behavior without fear of law. The High Court faulted the Screening Committee’s order, as a mechanical exercise of power, and reasoned that no charge of assaulting the modesty of a woman was made against the candidate and that the charge of theft was unsubstantiated.

Prem Singh Choudhary, SLP (C) No. 4304 of 2013

It was alleged that, he committed offences punishable under Sections 143/323/341 IPC.

It was held that in the light of the materials before the police, the informant had given an exaggerated account, of the incident, which the Screening Committee rejected, mechanically.

In Court’s opinion, scrutiny of the materials, by the High Court, was as if it was sitting in appeal over the decision of the Screening Committee. That body had the benefit of the overall record of the candidate, in the context of considering his or her suitability. Its conclusions should not have been brushed aside, on the ground that it showed the mechanical application of mind, or that the materials did not show involvement in a grave or serious offence.

Deepa Tomar

Screening committee was of the view that the acquittal was by granting benefit of doubt, and that the candidate was unfit for appointment as a Constable (Female) in the Delhi Police because she was accused of having committed a heinous crime i.e. of abduction and that the victim, her husband (Jitender) was still untraceable.

Court expressed its view that,

Courts exercising judicial review cannot second guess the suitability of a candidate for any public office or post. Absent evidence of malice or mindlessness (to the materials), or illegality by the public employer, an intense scrutiny on why a candidate is excluded as unsuitable renders the courts’ decision suspect to the charge of trespass into executive power of determining suitability of an individual for appointment.

 Lastly, expressing its view with norms and its interrelation with judicial review, Bench held that,

Judicial review, under the Constitution, is permissible to ensure that those norms are fair and reasonable, and applied fairly, in a non-discriminatory manner. However, suitability is entirely different; the autonomy or choice of the public employer, is greatest, as long as the process of decision making is neither illegal, unfair, or lacking in bona fides.

Holding that, certain types of offences, like molestation of women, or trespass and beating up, assault, causing hurt or grievous hurt, (with or without use of weapons), of victims, in rural settings, can also be indicative of caste or hierarchy-based behaviour. Each case is to be scrutinized by the concerned public employer, through its designated officials- more so, in the case of recruitment for the police force, who are under a duty to maintain order, and tackle lawlessness, since their ability to inspire public confidence is a bulwark to society’s security, appeals were allowed. [Commissioner of Police v. Raj Kumar, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 637, decided on 25-8-021] 

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