Public Examination System Need To Be Carefully Scrutinized To Avoid "Litigation Mess" Which Could Go On For Several Years: SC [Read Judgment]

The system of holding public examinations needs to be carefully scrutinised and reviewed so that selected candidates are not drawn into litigation which could go on for several years, the Bench said.

“What a mess!”, remarked Supreme Court Bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta, which finally provided a ‘middle path’ solution to mess that happened in recruitment examination conducted by the UP Secondary Education Services Selection Board in 2009.

The Chronological facts

  • June 2010: Results of the written examination in which 36,000 candidates were declared.

  • September 2010: Combined result (written examination and interview) was declared.

  • 2010-2011: A set of writ petitions filed by unsuccessful candidates were dismissed by Single Bench of Allahabad High Court, on the ground that there was no provision for re-evaluation of the answer sheets in the Uttar Pradesh Secondary Education Services Selection Board Act, 1982 or the Rules.

  • February, 2012: In another set of Writ petitions, filed by 77 persons, another single judge of the High Court, personally examined the seven questions which were challenged, and directed re-examination of the answer sheets of these 77 writ petitioners.

  • March 2012: Division Bench dismissed the writ appeal and upheld the direction by the Single Judge to re-evaluate the answer sheet.

  • September 2012: The Board September, 2012 declared the re-evaluated results of the written examination of all candidate.

  • Some candidates approached apex court which gave them liberty to file review petitions.

  • November 2015: The Division Bench, reviewing its earlier order, referred the seven disputed questions/answers for consideration by a one-man Expert Committee and directed a fresh evaluation of the answer sheets on the basis of the Report of the Expert Committee.

  • 2017: While the appeal against this order was pending before the Apex Court, the Board completed the third evaluation.

The Middle Path solution

The Bench observed that, in this complicated factual scenario, it has only two options: nullify the entire re-evaluation process and depend on the result declared on 14th September, 2010 or to go by the third set of results.

The Bench remarked: “Cancelling the examination is not an option. Whichever option is chosen, there will be some candidates who are likely to suffer and lose their jobs while some might be entitled to consideration for employment.”

The Court, then observed: “Having weighed the options before us, we are of opinion that the middle path is perhaps the best path to be taken under the circumstances of the case. The middle path is to declare the third set of results since the Board has undertaken a massive exercise under the directions of the High Court and yet protect those candidates may now be declared unsuccessful but are working as Trained Graduate Teachers a result of the first or the second declaration of results. It is also possible that consequent upon the third declaration of results some new candidates might get selected and should that happen, they will need to be accommodated since they were erroneously not selected on earlier occasions.”

Following directions were issued to clear the mess:

  • The results prepared by the Board consequent upon the decision dated 2nd November, 2015 of the High Court should be declared by the Board within two weeks from today.

  • Candidates appointed and working as Trained Graduate Teachers pursuant to the declaration of results on the earlier occasions, if found unsuccessful on the third declaration of results, should not be removed from service but should be allowed to continue

  • Candidates now selected for appointment as Trained Graduate Teachers (after the third declaration of results) should be appointed by the State by creating supernumerary posts. However, these newly appointed Trained Graduate Teachers will not be entitled to any consequential benefits.

‘Re-Evaluation’ principles summarized

The bench also expressed its pain and anguish that an examination for recruitment of Trained Graduate Teachers advertised in January, 2009 has still not attained finality even after the passage of more than eight years. “The system of holding public examinations needs to be carefully scrutinised and reviewed so that selected candidates are not drawn into litigation which could go on for several years. “

The Bench also summarized, referring to various case-laws on the subject of re-evaluation, as follows:

  • (i) If a statute, Rule or Regulation governing an examination permits the re-evaluation of an answer sheet or scrutiny of an answer sheet as a matter of right, then the authority conducting the examination may permit it;

  • (ii) If a statute, Rule or Regulation governing an examination does not permit re-evaluation or scrutiny of an answer sheet (as distinct from prohibiting it) then the Court may permit re-evaluation or scrutiny only if it is demonstrated very clearly, without any “inferential process of reasoning or by a process of rationalisation” and only in rare or exceptional cases that a material error has been committed;

  • (iii) The Court should not at all re-evaluate or scrutinize the answer sheets of a candidate – it has no expertise in the matter and academic matters are best left to academics;

  • (iv) The Court should presume the correctness of the key answers and proceed on that assumption;

  • (v) In the event of a doubt, the benefit should go to the examination authority rather than to the candidate.

Unfortunate interference by Courts in Examination process

The Bench, observed that the High Court ought to have been far more circumspect in interfering and deciding on the correctness of the key answers. It said: “It is rather unfortunate that despite several decisions of this Court, …, there is interference by the Courts in the result of examinations. This places the examination authorities in an unenviable position where they are under scrutiny and not the candidates. Additionally, a massive and sometimes prolonged examination exercise concludes with an air of uncertainty.”

A Judge has no right to ignore the contrary view taken by coordinate bench

The Bench also disapproved of the Single Judge entertaining a batch of writ petition, even though several similar writ petitions had earlier been dismissed by another Single Judge(s). “Respect for the view taken by a coordinate Bench is an essential element of judicial discipline. A judge might have a difference of opinion with another judge, but that does not give him or her any right to ignore the contrary view. In the event of a difference of opinion, the procedure sanctified by time must be adhered to so that there is demonstrated respect for the rule of law.”, the Court observed.

Sympathy/compassion has no role to direct re-evaluation

The Court also observed that sympathy or compassion does not play any role in the matter of directing or not directing re-evaluation of an answer sheet. The Bench added: “If an error is committed by the examination authority, the complete body of candidates suffers. The entire examination process does not deserve to be derailed only because some candidates are disappointed or dissatisfied or perceive some injustice having been caused to them by an erroneous question or an erroneous answer. All candidates suffer equally, though some might suffer more but that cannot be helped since mathematical precision is not always possible. This Court has shown one way out of an impasse – exclude the suspect or offending question.”

Read the Judgment Here