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Supreme Court Permits 5 Civil Service Aspirants Who Cleared Mains But Were Disqualified For Submitting Degree Certificate Late To Attend UPSC Interview

Radhika Roy
16 July 2021 7:38 AM GMT
Supreme Court Permits 5 Civil Service Aspirants Who Cleared Mains But Were Disqualified For Submitting  Degree Certificate Late To Attend UPSC Interview
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The Court passed this direction as a "special case" considering the fact that the candidates missed the last date as their universities declared their results late due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an extraordinary move, the Supreme Court on Friday allowed five civil service candidates who cleared the UPSC civil service main examinations held this year, but were disqualified for submitting the degree certificates after the cut-off date, to appear for the interview.A bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna passed this direction as a "special case" considering the...

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In an extraordinary move, the Supreme Court on Friday allowed five civil service candidates who cleared the UPSC civil service main examinations held this year, but were disqualified for submitting the degree certificates after the cut-off date, to appear for the interview.

A bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna passed this direction as a "special case" considering the fact that the candidates missed the last date as their universities declared their results late due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bench clarified that this will not be treated as a precedent. Further, the Court clarified that this order will not disturb the already published list and that these 5 candidates will be in addition to the candidates already short-listed for interview.

The Court noted that the UPSC had allowed 12 candidates, who had cleared the preliminary examinations, to appear for the main examinations even though they had not produced the qualifying examination certificates along with the Detailed Application Form-I.  The UPSC allowed them to attend the main examination on an undertaking to produce the certificates. Later, the UPSC cancelled their candidature for not submitting the proof of passing the qualifying examination before the prescribed the last date.

Today, the counsel for the UPSC informed the bench that 5 of the above said 12 candidates have cleared the main exams. Although only four of such candidates were the petitioners in the case, the Supreme Court allowed the fifth person also to attend the interview. Yesterday, the bench had asked the UPSC counsel to inform today the exact number of such candidates.

Advocate Tanya Shree appeared for the petitioners and Advocate Naresh Kaushik appeared for the UPSC.

The bench observed in the order as follows :

"Considering the peculiar situation in which petitioners were placed due to the Covid situation and reasons beyond their control inasmuch as the university could not declare the results of the exams conducted in August 2019 until December 2020, coupled with the fact that the petitioners and similarly placed persons were permitted to appear in the main examination, it would be inequitable at this stage to deny them the opportunity of continuing with the UPSC examination".

The Court said that it was passing the order in exercise of plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, by treating this as a special case, and hence the order should not be treated as a precedent.

As per the norms, the candidates had to submit the proof of passing the qualifying exam along with the Detailed Application Form-I (DAF-I), which had to be submitted before November 23, 2020. The results of the petitioners' final exams were declared by their respective universities after the said cut-off date. However, the UPSC allowed them to appear in the Mains exam, held in January 2021, on the basis of an undertaking. Before the actual date of the mains exams, the petitioners' university results came declaring them qualified.

Court room exchange

The case witnessed a gripping hearing yesterday with the bench initially tilting in favour of the petitioners, then turning against them after the submissions of the UPSC, and finally indicating an intention to allow the candidates who have cleared the mains to attend the interview as an exceptional measure, if the numbers are less.

Advocate Tanya Shree, appearing for the petitioners, informed that when the preliminary examinations were held on October 4, 2020, the results of the final exams of the candidates had not been declared by their respective universities. Therefore, they were allowed to participate in the preliminary exams on an undertaking. The results of the preliminary exams were declared on October 23, 2020 and the petitioners cleared the same.

As per the civil service examination rules, the candidates are required to produce the proof of qualifying examination while submitting the Detailed Application Form (DAF-I) for the mains exams. The cut-off date for this was November 23, 2020. Even on that date, the results of the petitioners were out. However, the petitioners were allowed to appear for the mains exams held in January 2021 on an undertaking. Meanwhile, their university results came and they were declared pass.

Later, the UPSC informed them that their candidates have been cancelled for not submitting the proof of educational qualifications by the cut-off date, and their results of mains were withheld.

Advocate Tanya Shree argued that the candidates had a "legitimate expectation" that their candidatures will be accepted as they were allowed to appear for mains exams. The delay in results happened because of the pandemic circumstances, which were beyond the control of the petitioners.

The bench at first expressed agreement with the petitioners.

"Is UPSC reasonable in rejecting the candidature of civil service aspirants for not submitting degree certificates at time of application, after allowing them to appear for the Mains exam?", the bench asked the UPSC counsel.

"This is an exceptional year. The student is not responsible. Most of universities declared results after October, including DU. Are the students responsible? If they have cleared the exams and have produced the certificates before the Mains, why can't it be treated as good compliance?", the bench asked the UPSC.

The UPSC counsel Naresh Kaushik replied that the Rules prescribe that the certificates have to be produced at the point of submitting DAF -I forms. Majority of candidates complied with this despite the pandemic, he added.

He referred to the precedent laid down by the three-judge bench in the case Ashok Kumar Sonkar vs Union of India (2007) 4 SCC 54 which held that "cut-off" date is sacrosanct and court cannot interfere with that.

"There has to be a deadline. Otherwise there will be uncertainty. More than 10 lakh candidates are applying. It is a humongous task to scrutinize the documents", the UPSC counsel submitted.

Following UPSC counsel's submissions, the bench expressed disinclination to entertain the matter.

"This will open a Pandora's box", the bench said. The bench pointed out that the UPSC has not given any special exception due to pandemic and expressed helplessness in going against the rules.

However, Advocate Tanya Shree tried to persuade the bench by arguing that it will be highly unfair and unjust to penalize the students for no fault of theirs. She highlighted that the petitioners will be losing one year. She submitted that this was a fit case for the Supreme Court to exercise its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to do complete justice in the peculiar factual circumstances.

Following that, the bench directed the UPSC to inform tomorrow the exact number of candidates like the petitioners, who might have cleared the mains.

Previously, the Counsel for UPSC had submitted a Counter-Affidavit contending that "conditions of eligibility cannot be relaxed for certain individuals on different grounds" as the same would be contrary to the tenets of Article 14 and Article 16.

Therefore, the Commission had opposed the petitions filed by a few civil services aspirants whose candidatures were cancelled on the ground that they had not submitted requisite proof of educational qualification under Rule 7 and Rule 11 of the Civil Services Examination Rules, 2020.

BACKGROUND

The plea, filed through Advocate Tanya Shree, submits that the cancellation of the candidature via letter dated March 12, 2021, is "arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminates amongst the candidates similarly situated and therefore is in violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950".

As per facts in one case, as a result of the national lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic, the final examination of the Petitioner's B.Tech course got delayed. The exam was conducted in the end of September 2020 and results were declared after November 2020. To appear for the UPSC Preliminary Exams in October 2020, the petitioner gave an undertaking that she would submit the documents as soon as results are declared. The petitioner was required to submit the proof of qualifying examination by November 11, 2020.

Since the results of her university were not announced by that time, the Petitioner made a request to the UPSC to allow her to take the Mains exams on an undertaking.

Her university results came on November 28, 2020 and she was declared pass. She was later issued a provisional certificate by the University. In January 2021, she appeared in the Mains exam.

However, the plea submits, that after appearing for Civil Services Mains Examination, she received a letter which cancelled her candidature on the ground that she had not submitted proof of requisite educational qualification.

"It is noteworthy that the Petitioner had given an undertaking to the Respondent No. 1 that she will submit proof of qualifying examination as soon as results are published. Consequently, she has provided Respondent No. 1 with her requisite degree certificates but the same have not been considered by Respondent No.1".

The plea goes on to contend that an original copy of the documents is required only when candidates appear for the Personality Test. Therefore, exclusion of the Petitioner without taking into consideration the fact that the result was declared after November 2020 "on account of unprecedented situation arising out of COVID-19, reeks of unreasonableness and is manifestly arbitrary, which results in denial of equal opportunity to the Petitioner in matters of public employment".

It is also contended that principle of estoppel would apply in the matter as the petitioner had been issued an admit card on the basis of the undertaking, and therefore, she could not be denied the right to be considered for the Personality Test.

In light of the above, the plea states that cancellation of the candidature would render the whole year of the petitioner a waste, due to no fault of hers, and denying her the right to be considered for Personality Test would amount to grave injustice.

The results of Mains Exams of petitioners were withheld.

Case Title: Deepak Yadav &Ors v. UPSC &Ors; Vaidehi Gupta v. UPSC &Ors.

Citation : LL 2021 SC 302

Click here to read/download the order






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