Can examination authorities deny permission for appearance in a competitive exam for violating clothing guidelines? Delhi High Court answers

competitive exam

Delhi High Court: While deciding a writ petition by a student who was not permitted to appear for a competitive exam because she was wearing a kara, the Single Judge Bench of Rekha Palli, J. held that “It is highly unfortunate that a specialized body like the DSSSB, which is regularly conducting examinations for selection to various posts in the public sectors in Delhi and in which examinations, a large number of Sikh candidates regularly appear, did not bother to take any timely action to inform the candidates that if they were desirous of wearing a kara and/or kirpan, they were required to reach the examination centre at least one hour before the reporting time.”

Facts and legal trajectory of the case:

The petitioner, who was a lady belonging to the Sikh community, was aggrieved by the action of the respondents because they did not permit her to appear in the examination for selection to the post of PGT-Economics (Female) held on 17-07-2021. Although, she had reached the examination centre before the closing time, she was denied permission to appear for the exam because she was wearing her metallic kara and a full-sleeved dress. The petitioner filed a writ petition seeking special arrangements to be made for holding a fresh examination for the one post which was directed to be kept vacant pursuant to the interim directions issued by the High Court on 08-09-2021.

Issues:

Whether the respondent was justified in denying permission to the petitioner to appear for the examination?

Analysis and findings:

The Court noted that the notification informing the candidates that if they wanted to appear in the examination wearing a kara and/or kirpan, they should reach the examination centre at least one hour before the reporting time, was issued two days after the examination had been conducted, i.e., 19-7-2021. The Court also noted that the respondents could not have denied permission to the petitioner from appearing in the examination, because the examination was to commence at 2 pm and she had reported at the centre at 1:28 pm. Thus, the respondents had enough time to properly check her kara for any possible misuse, which they didn’t do.

The Court held that by not informing the prospective candidates about this specific examination requirement and preventing the petitioner from appearing in the examination till she removed her kara and permitted the sleeves of her dress to be cut to half, the respondents have wrongly prevented the petitioner from appearing in the examination. Thus, this action of the respondents is unsustainable and liable to be quashed.

The Court also held that although one post for PGT-Economics (Female) was directed to be kept vacant by the interim order issued by this Court, the fault of the respondents cannot be a ground to permit the petitioner to be appointed against the available vacant post as the examination in question was a competitive examination. Thus, the petitioner would have to appear for a fresh examination for that post.

Conclusively, the Court gave directions to the DSSSB “to ensure that adequate notice regarding this additional requirement for candidates desirous of wearing a kara and/or kirpan to reach the examination centre one hour before the reporting time, be given well in advance so that no undue hardship is caused to them as caused to the petitioner in the present case.”

Lastly, the Court observed that “It is expected that not only the DSSSB but all other recruiting agencies who conduct similar examinations will take appropriate steps in this regard well before the conduct of the examinations.”

[Manharleen Kaur v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 2011, decided on 11-07-2022]

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