In a judgment delivered on Wednesday, the Supreme Court reiterated the principles to be followed by a High Court while exercising the power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
A Clause in a job advertisement read that the candidate "must have succeeded at any subsequent higher level of education in the language paper". A man, who passed Certificate Course in Bengali from University of Delhi, applied and was later rejected on the ground that he does not possess requisite qualification as per the advertisement. The High Court, allowing his writ petition, observed that the Statement of Marks issued by the University of Delhi, showed that he had successfully completed the Certificate Course in Bengali, and should be considered as holding requisite qualification.
The bench comprising of Justice R. Banumathi and Justice Indira Banerjee, while considering the appeal (West Bengal Central School Service Commission vs. Abdul Halim) against the High Court judgment, observed that the High Court has lost sight of the limits of its extraordinary power of judicial review and has in fact sat in appeal over the decision of the authorities. The bench observed:
"In this case, it is not in dispute that the Respondent No.1 who had been educated outside the State of West Bengal, did not have Bengali as a subject at the Secondary, Higher Secondary, graduation or post graduation level. The interpretation of the last Clause of Paragraph 2 of the advertisement and/or Rule 5 (c) of the Rules, which reads "must have succeeded in higher level of education in that language paper" by the authorities as success in the language paper at the graduation level or the post graduation level, or alternatively an examination in the language paper of a level which is equivalent to the level of the language as taught in the graduation level and not any part time course conducted by a University is a plausible if not possible interpretation which ought not to have been interfered with by the Writ Court."
The bench reiterated the following principles of Judicial Review.
The High Court in exercise of jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India does not sit in appeal over an administrative decision. The Court might only examine the decision making process to ascertain whether there was such infirmity in the decision making process, which vitiates the decision and calls for intervention under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. In any case, the High Court exercises its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to enforce a fundamental right or some other legal right or the performance of some legal duty. To pass orders in a writ petition, the High Court would necessarily have to address to itself the question of whether there has been breach of any fundamental or legal right of the petitioner, or whether there has been lapse in performance by the respondents of a legal duty.The High Court in exercise of its power to issue writs, directions or orders to any person or authority to correct quasi-judicial or even administrative decisions for enforcement of a fundamental or legal right is obliged to prevent abuse of power and neglect of duty by public authorities. In exercise of its power of judicial review, the Court is to see whether the decision impugned is vitiated by an apparent error of law. The test to determine whether a decision is vitiated by error apparent on the face of the record is whether the error is self-evident on the face of the record or whether the error requires examination or argument to establish it. If an error has to be established by a process of reasoning, on points where there may reasonably be two opinions, it cannot be said to be an error on the face of the record, as held by this Court in Satyanarayan vs. Mallikarjuna reported in AIR 1960 SC 137. If the provision of a statutory rule is reasonably capable of two or more constructions and one construction has been adopted, the decision would not be open to interference by the writ Court. It is only an obvious misinterpretation of a relevant statutory provision, or ignorance or disregard thereof, or a decision founded on reasons which are clearly wrong in law, which can be corrected by the writ Court by issuance of writ of Certiorari. The sweep of power under Article 226 may be wide enough to quash unreasonable orders. If a decision is so arbitrary and capricious that no reasonable person could have ever arrived at it, the same is liable to be struck down by a writ Court. If the decision cannot rationally be supported by the materials on record, the same may be regarded as perverse. However, the power of the Court to examine the reasonableness of an order of the authorities does not enable the Court to look into the sufficiency of the grounds in support of a decision to examine the merits of the decision, sitting as if in appeal over the decision. The test is not what the Court considers reasonable or unreasonable but a decision which the Court thinks that no reasonable person could have taken, which has led to manifest injustice. The writ Court does not interfere, because a decision is not perfect.
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