29 Aug 2023 10:20 AM GMT
The Jharkhand High Court has recently issued a comprehensive list of directions regarding a contentious recruitment process at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS).The division bench of Justices Sujit Narayan Prasad and Navneet Kumar thereby modified the Single Judge’s verdict and opined that scrapping the recruitment advertisement or the entire selection process for Grade-IV...
The Jharkhand High Court has recently issued a comprehensive list of directions regarding a contentious recruitment process at the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS).
The division bench of Justices Sujit Narayan Prasad and Navneet Kumar thereby modified the Single Judge’s verdict and opined that scrapping the recruitment advertisement or the entire selection process for Grade-IV posts would unfairly penalise genuine candidates.
"Therefore, this Court is of the view that reason assigned by the learned Single Judge in the impugned order cannot be said to be unjustified but taking into consideration the discussion made hereinabove and considering the fact that even there is some irregularity since the same can be cured or segregated hence cancellation of advertisement/entire selection process will be said to be at the cost of genuine candidate which cannot be said to be proper and justified otherwise for the reason that for no fault of successful candidates they are subjected to suffering, hence fresh select list is required to be prepared."
It also added,
"This Court in entirety of facts and judicial pronouncements, as discussed hereinabove, since is of the view that a fresh select list is required to be prepared, after segregating the candidates who have resorted to malpractice or submitted forged experience certificate, including the candidate falling under reserved Category."
The bench directed the medical institute to review all candidate applications meticulously according to the original advertisement and conduct a thorough examination of experience certificates and other supporting documents. The bench also directed the respondent institute that if a candidate's experience certificate is found to be fraudulent, their candidacy should be immediately rejected, and legal action should be pursued against such candidates if necessary.
The above ruling was delivered in a Letters Patent Appeal, which was directed against the judgment/order passed by the Single Judge which cancelled the entire selection process initiated in terms of Advertisement No. 955(c) with a direction upon RIMS to consider the cases of the petitioners for their appointment on Grade-IV posts in view of terms and conditions of appointment as mentioned in the advertisement if there was no other legal impediments and issue offer of appointment in favour of petitioners.
In 2019, three advertisements dated 08.03.2019 were published for the recruitment of Grade-III Technical and Non-Technical posts, as well as Grade-IV posts.
The writ petitioners had applied for the Grade-IV positions based on Advertisement No. 955 (c). Following a thorough review of the applicant's documents and credentials, the appellants-RIMS released a list of selected candidates on 20.10.2020, which included the names of the petitioners.
However, despite their names being on the final list of selected candidates, they did not receive any official appointment offers. Expressing their concern, they submitted a representation on 05.01.2021 to the RIMS, but their plea went unanswered.
Subsequently, in June 2021, the petitioners were surprised to learn about an order issued by the Secretary of the Department of Health, Medical Education and Family Welfare, Government of Jharkhand. This order, issued in light of a directive from the Department of Personnel, Government of Jharkhand, referred to a court order in Soni Kumari & Ors. Vs. State of Jharkhand & Ors and announced the cancellation of the recruitment process for Grade-IV posts that had been initiated under Advertisement No. 955 (c) dated 08.03.2019. Additionally, the order instructed the issuance of a new advertisement for fresh recruitment.
Aggrieved by this, the petitioners moved the High Court and the Single Judge ruled in favour of the petitioners, overturning the decision to cancel the entire selection process that had been set in motion based on Advertisement No. 955(c).
(I) Legitimacy of Cancellation: Is the cancellation of the entire selection process, as per Advertisement No. 955(c), justified on the basis of certain reported irregularities by the authorities?
(II) Validity of Cancellation: Can the decision to annul the complete selection process under Advertisement No. 955(c) be considered appropriate, even if there is evidence of oversight regarding the inclusion of candidates from the "EWS" category or the adherence to the reservation roster?
(III) Feasibility of Rectification: Can the oversight regarding the consideration of candidates from the EWS category or the reservation roster be rectified at this stage by generating a fresh list based on the submitted applications, without necessitating the cancellation of the initial advertisement?
(IV) Segregation of Candidates: Is it possible to differentiate candidates who are accused of employing unfair practices from genuinely honest candidates?
(V) Balancing Legality and Fairness: Does the potential wrongdoing of the authority in accepting erroneous experience certificates or not adhering to the reservation policy, particularly concerning the EWS Category, justify subjecting legitimate candidates to the consequences of such actions?
The Court first deliberated on the circumstances warranting the cancellation of an entire selection process. Citing various rulings from the Supreme Court, it emphasized that when unfair practices are pervasive, distinguishing between tainted and untainted participants becomes challenging.
The Court clarified that it cannot intervene in the selection process itself, as the assessment of candidates falls under the exclusive purview of the selection committee, which is not subject to judicial review. However, the Court noted that interference is possible in cases involving instances of inherent arbitrariness.
It was noted that an advertisement was released to fill Class IV positions at RIMS, and the petitioners, among other candidates, engaged in the selection process and were ultimately listed as successful candidates, recommended for the positions. Yet, the Court observed that the advertisement was subsequently retracted through an order dated 06.04.2021 due to irregularities committed by both candidates and the recruiting body.
The Court underscored the principle that until an offer of appointment is extended, candidates lack an absolute entitlement to the position, even if recommended in the final selection list. However, the Court found it pertinent to address the issue that the writ petitioners should not be unjustly deprived of the benefits of their legitimate efforts and success due to the transgressions of others.
The Court highlighted that RIMS had acknowledged that certain candidates had submitted improper experience certificates. Notably, an experience certificate purportedly issued by AIIMS, Patna, was deemed fraudulent, leading to the filing of a police report (F.I.R.).
Furthermore, the Court observed that the selection committee's decision to cancel the process was also based on the grounds that the experience certificates did not align with the specified criteria outlined in condition no. B (ii) of the advertisement. This condition demanded experience in a 500-bed hospital setting.
The Court observed that the advertised quota for the EWS category included 12 positions, yet no candidates from the EWS category were selected. The Court acknowledged that while not all grounds were explicitly mentioned in the challenged order, the appellants' counsel justified this by referring to an enquiry committee's report, according to whom, the report contained the necessary justifications, implying that the reasons were inherent in the order itself.
"We, in order to examine the aforesaid submission and considering the fact that it is a matter of public employment think it is not proper to deviate from the settled position of law that the reason cannot be allowed to be improved by way of affidavit or any supportive document, if not available in the impugned order, as per the ratio laid down by Hon‟ble Apex Court in the case of Mohinder Singh Gill and Anr. vs. The Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi and Ors.[(1978)1 SCC 405]," the Court further observed.
Upon examining the enquiry report, the Court found that the allegations were not directed at all candidates. Instead, some candidates were noted to lack relevant experience for the designated work, while others were found to have obtained experience certificates through fraudulent means.
The court asserted, “There is no dispute that if any intent of fraud is there from the side of candidate their candidature is required to be rejected on the principle that fraud vitiates all solemnity of act but the question is that whether for the fault committed by some of the candidates can it adversely affect the interest of genuine candidates which is the main issue for consideration in this appeal.”
The court noted that the reservation benefits for the EWS/reserved category had not been properly implemented, leading the recruiting agency to annul the final selection list prepared based on advertisement no. 955(c). The court acknowledged that the appointing authority had the discretion to annul the entire selection process in cases of widespread malpractice, where it's impossible to distinguish between fair and unfair candidates.
Subsequently, the court examined whether the irregularities were reparable and whether it was justifiable for genuine candidates to suffer due to the actions of a few. The court emphasized that the allegations mainly targeted the competent authority responsible for issuing the advertisement and conducting the selection process. In light of this, the focus was on determining whether the recruiting agency's fault was fixable without scrapping the entire selection process.
The Court observed, “Herein, the advertisement is of the 2019 and the successful candidates waited for its fruit for the last four years and if for no fault of their own the entire selection process including the advertisement is quashed it will be harsh for them but even then the same can be done if there is no chance of picking up the illegal doer from the final select list, as prepared by the recruiting agency.”
“The alleged irregularities said to have been committed by the recruiting agency/authority of acceptance of the candidature of such candidate who have offered their candidature by submitting forged/improper experience certificate, the same according to our considered view cannot be a ground to cancel the entire selection process instead thereof, the candidature of such candidate is required to be cancelled, who submitted forged certificates or involved in malpractices,” the Court added.
The Court held that even the second point, which pertained to the advantage of reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) or reserved categories, should not be considered a valid reason to invalidate the advertisement. This was because evaluating the eligibility of candidates falling under the EWS/reserved category could be achieved through a thorough examination of their submitted applications.
The Court clarified that if the advertisement did not include any mention of the EWS category, there might have been grounds to label it as irregular or illegal. However, this was not the case here, as the advertisement explicitly referred to the EWS category, designating 12 posts for such candidates. Therefore, it was reasonable to assume that applicants from the EWS category had applied after comprehending the details provided in the advertisement. Consequently, this aspect could be addressed without needing to annul the entire advertisement.
The Court emphasized, "This Court is also required to refer herein that the RIMS is the main hospital in the State of Jharkhand having been established to extend medical facilities to the people of State of Jharkhand at large including the persons falling under BPL category by extending free medical facilities/aid and as such the importance of filling up the class IV posts is of much relevance but delay has been caused by cancelling the entire selection process since the advertisement was published in the year 2019 and now we are in the year 2023 and still the posts are lying vacant and it has been reported that the work are being done by outsourcing."
The Court clarified that the delay, although relevant, did not qualify as grounds for advertisement cancellation. The fundamental condition for advertisement annulment was that if the alleged irregularity could be rectified without scrapping the entire selection process, then it was unjust to cancel the advertisement to the detriment of legitimate candidates.
However, the court considered the findings of an inquiry report that revealed irregularities during the investigation, whereby the inquiry committee concluded that the reservation benefits were not implemented correctly as per the State's reservation roster. Thus, the court concluded that the inquiry report could not be ignored.
Upon considering whether it was necessary to cancel the advertisement, the court emphasised that advertisement cancellation would only be a suitable course of action if the wrongdoing during the recruitment process was so severe that it could not be rectified. However, it was found that the impugned selection process could be cured by picking out the candidature of the unsuitable candidate and by taking recourse of re-consideration of the application of such candidate who has offered their candidature for consideration under reserved category.
Thus, the Court issued the following directions to the appellant institute :
(I) Scrutinize all the applications of the candidates afresh, as per advertisement.
(II) Further scrutinize the experience certificate/other testimonials attached with the applications properly and weed out the forged/improper one.
(III) The experience certificate, if found to be forged, the candidature of such candidate must be rejected outrightly by taking consequential follow-up legal action against such candidate, if required.
(IV) The competent authority will take sincere endeavour for consideration of candidature of candidates who are applicants under EWS/reserved category by well scrutinizing their eligibility criteria based upon the proper certificate issued in terms of the policy decision of the State Government and if they are coming under the parameter of such reservation policy, the benefit of reservation under EWS/reserved category must be extended to them.
(V) Since the recruitment process has stretched fairly for four years for no fault on the part of the applicants, which put the institution like RIMS in adverse situation due to urgent requirement of class IV employees, therefore, it is directed to complete the whole exercise of recruitment by publication of „Fresh select list‟ within a stipulated period of three months from the date of receipt of copy of this order.
(VI) Further, there is allegation of certain irregularities in the process of selection, as such this Court deems it fit and proper to direct the Director, RIMS to take appropriate legal action by identifying the officers/staffs who were/are involved in the faulty process of selection so as to deal with properly in accordance with law.
Acknowledging that the State holds jurisdiction over the RIMS, the court directed the Additional Chief Secretary of the Health Department to oversee actions against those responsible for the illegal actions so that such type of instances may not happen in future.
As such, the appeal was disposed of.
Case Title: Rajendra Institute of Medical Science (RIMS) vs Ranjan Kumar Singh and Others
Case Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Jha) 32
Case No.: L.P.A. No. 565 of 2022
For the Appellants : Dr. Ashok Kumar Singh, Advocate Mr. Prabhat Kumar, Shivam Singh Mr. Nilesh Modi, Advocate.
For the Writ Petitioners: Mr. Dhananjay Kumar Dubey, Adv Mr. Raju Koiri, Advocate
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