10 Nov 2022 5:21 AM GMT
The Madras High Court recently said that when the answer key is manifestly and patently erroneous, interference will be warranted.Dealing with a petition related to the exam held for recruitment of teachers, Justice GR Swaminathan said the Supreme Court in Vikesh Kumar Gupta v. State of Rajasthan has held that court should be very slow in interfering with expert opinion in academic matters and...
The Madras High Court recently said that when the answer key is manifestly and patently erroneous, interference will be warranted.
Dealing with a petition related to the exam held for recruitment of teachers, Justice GR Swaminathan said the Supreme Court in Vikesh Kumar Gupta v. State of Rajasthan has held that court should be very slow in interfering with expert opinion in academic matters and in any event, assessment of the questions by the courts itself to arrive at correct answers is not permissible.
However, the court added, that the apex court in Kanpur University v. Samir Gupta has held that key answer should be assumed to be correct unless it is proved to be wrong and that it should not be held to be wrong by an inferential process of reasoning or by a process of rationalization.
"'Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood' is the declaration found in Mundaka Upanishad. 'Satyameva Jayate' is the national motto. Judicial review cannot be totally ousted in certain circumstances. Where the key answer is manifestly and patently erroneous, interference will be warranted. In other words, the court, without looking at extraneous materials, must be able come to definite and clear conclusion on the strength of the materials relied on by the academic experts themselves," Justice Swaminathan said.
The court added: "Otherwise, absurd consequences will ensue as a matter of logical necessity (reductio ad absurdum). Let me demonstrate. Assume, the question is "who is now the Prime Minister of India?". The candidate writes "Shri.Narendra Modi". If the key answer is "Shri.Rahul Gandhi", will it not be absurd?"
The petitioner had taken part in the recruitment process conducted by the Teachers Recruitment Board for the post of P.G. Assistant (English) for the year 2021. She scored 97.773003 marks out of 150. The cut-off mark for B.C (W) category was 98.196. In the petition before the court, she argued that she was erroneously awarded lower marks.
She told the court she should have been awarded two more marks as her answers to the question no. 71 and 108 were correct. The Teachers Recruitment Board argued that opinion expressed by the expert committee is final and that it is not open to the court to second guess the correctness of the final key answers.
The question asked was Who is the narrator of 'Wuthering Heights' the novel written by Emily Bronte?. The four answers in the paper were Mrs Ellen, Heathcliff, Linton and Catherine. The petitioner told the court that the correct answer is Mrs Ellen. However, the Board had cancelled the question itself after it was informed by a candidate that all the four options are incorrect.
On petitioner's argument that the objection was taken by just one candidate, the court said:
"I do not find any merit in the submission that there was only a solitary objection from among the thousands of candidates. What matters is not quantity. Numbers are determinative and decisive only in democratic politics. Not in all areas. Definitely not in academic matters. Number is irrelevant. Weight alone counts. I therefore do not fault the respondents for having acted on the representation from only one candidate."
The court said even a casual reader can conclude that the narrator is Mr. Lockwood.
"I got in touch with veteran writer Mrs.Malathi Rangarajan and put the question alone. The response was instant – Lockwood. I persisted "what about Mrs.Ellen?". Not the main narrator, was the reply. She had narrated her experiences only to Mr.Lockwood who presents them to the readers. Therefore, the correct answer to that question was only Lockwood," Justice Swaminathan said.
Rejecting the petitioner's contention and endorsing the action of Board, the court, however, said it fails to understand how the options were incorrectly framed in the first instance.
"The Board must not leave the issue. It must fix the responsibility. The question paper setters must be made accountable."
The question was: According to Allen Tate the meaning of good poetry, "is its _______, the full organized body of all the extension and intension that we can find in it." The available answers were Confusion, Stress, Tension and Depression.
While the petitioner mentioned Tension as the correct answer, the Board said Confusion is the correct answer.
"I called upon the learned standing counsel to make available the basis on which the experts came to the conclusion that the correct alternative is "confusion" and not "tension". It is too obvious from the record that the experts have arbitrarily taken the stand that the key answer is correct and does not require change. Even the extract enclosed in the sealed cover indicated that "tension" is the right answer," said the court.
The court said the respondents passed on a "slim sealed cover" and that when it clearly indicated the material does not support the Board's key answer, there was no demurrer.
It added that no endeavour was made by the Board to even indicate that their answer could possibly be right. In the counter affidavit also, the "accent" was on questioning the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the writ petition, said the court.
"Respectfully applying the decision of the Hon'ble Three Judges Bench of the Hon'ble Supreme Court in Kanpur University case. I hold that the petitioner has demonstrated that the key answer to Question No.108 is manifestly, demonstrably and patently wrong. The court cannot shut its eyes to what is too obvious and apparent. Only an ostrich donning judicial robes will hide its head in the sand," Justice Swaminathan said.
Observing that the petitioner is a woman belonging to the backward class and her future is at stake, the court said the paper setters had shown a wrong answer in the key.
"The paper setters had shown a wrong answer in the key. The experts have arbitrarily refused to correct the same while publishing the final key. I have already given a finding that the experts not only have not placed any material to show that the key answer is correct but even the material passed on to the court shows that the petitioner's answer is correct. The petitioner should therefore be awarded one more mark. She was wrongfully denied an extra one mark," said the bench.
Accordingly, the court said she will be treated as having scored 98.773003 out of 150 marks.
"I direct the respondent Board to send a communication to the Director of School Education Department mentioning the marks of the writ petitioner as 98.773003 and by including her in the appropriate place in the selection list. The Director of School Education Department shall issue an appointment order to the petitioner as P.G Assistant (English) without delay"
However, the court clarified that since the process is over, it will not entertain further writ petitions even if other candidates may be on the same footing.
"I do not want to open the flood gates. Grant of relief shall remain confined to the petitioner alone," it said.
Case Title: K Vinopratha v The Teachers Recruitment Board and another
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Mad) 459
Case No: W.P(MD)No.22129 of 2022
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr.K.Mahendran
Counsel for the Respondent: Mr.V.R.Shanmuganthan, Standing Counsel.
Click here for the judgment