Sunday, March 10, 2024

Supreme Court set-aside three judgments of Patna High Court on incorrect decsions of Bihar Public Service Commission

Drawing on the ratio of Aarav Jain v. Bihar Public Service Commission (Civil Appeal No. 4242 of 2022), Supreme Court's bench of Justices J.K. Maheshwari and K.V. Viswanathan set-aside the judgments of Patna High Court dated November 3, 2021, September 4, 2021 and April 19, 2023 by its judgement in Sweety Kumari v. State of Bihar. The judgement of Patna High Court's bench of Justices Vikash Jain and Rajesh Kumar Verma dated November 3, 2021 was authored by the former. 

Supreme Court's judgement records that "upon issuance of directions by this Court, the State Government is ready to accommodate all the three candidates (namely Sweety Kumari, Vikramaditya Mishra and Aditi) who have also secured more marks than cut-off for their respective categories." This appeal arose out of S.L.P. (C) No. 9964 of 2022 and two similar appeals. The appeal was filed on April 27, 2022. The petitioner's advocate was Harish Pandey.

The Court drew on the verdict in Aarava Jain case wherein Supreme Court had repelled the contention of Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) regarding cancellation of the candidature due to non-submission of the originals at the time of the interview as their true photocopies were on record and subsequently, the originals were also submitted before BPSC. The Court was of the opinion that the plea of non-submission of the originals at the time of interview is neither related to the qualification nor eligibility and a verification and vigilance report is anyway obtained by the State during probation. Therefore, the production of the original was not a mandatory condition. The stand of the BPSC had materially resulted in the dis-qualification of candidates who were otherwise in the merit list. Therefore, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court directed that the rejection of candidature was improper, unjustified and not warranted. The Court granted relief to the eight candidates in the civil appeal of Aarav Jain by adjusting the available five vacancies in the unreserved category and for the other three candidates belonging to EBC, SC and BC category, it was directed to the State to either adjust them against future vacancies which were stated to be available at that time or the State was permitted to borrow three posts from future vacancies, one each in respective categories. It was also held that the power to vary the vacancies of the said advertisement always vests in the employer under the wisdom and discretion of the State. The Court gave weight to the fact that all the candidates secured marks more than the cut-off and, therefore, such meritorious candidates would only be an asset for the institution helping in disposal of cases. The Court further directed to allow to all these eight candidates the benefits of increment and other notional benefits at par to other selected candidates as per their merits without arrears of salary.

The Court also drew on the analogy drawn in the case of Charles K. Skaria and Others v. Dr. C. Mathew and Others (1980) 2 SCC 752 whereby Justice V. R.  Krishna Iyer speaking for the Court held that the factum of eligibility is different from factum of proof thereof. This Court held that if a person possesses eligibility before the date of actual selection, he cannot be denied benefit because its proof is produced later. In the Sweety Kumari case case, the proof was available and true photocopies were on record. The appellants’ candidature could not have been rejected merely because the original was not produced before the Commission at the time of interview in particular when such requirement was not mandatory, in view of the manner in which the Rules are couched.

The judgement records that according to Supreme Court's directions vide order dated August 14, 2023, the Registrar General of Patna High Court filed an affidavit after perusing the documents produced before him by the State of Bihar and the BPSC. Notably, in the said affidavit, it was admitted that the case of the appellants Sweety Kumari and Vikramaditya Mishra is similar to the case of Aarav Jain.

The judgement observes that the judgments passed by the High Court of Judicature at Patna in Sweety Kumari v. State of Bihar (CWJC No. 18038/2021) dated November 3, 2021, Vikramaditya Mishra v. State of Bihar (CWJC No. 3707/2020) dated September 4, 2021; and Aditi v. Bihar Public Service Commission Patna and Others. (CWJC No. 15325/2022) dated April 19, 2023 were under challenge. By these judgments, the High Court upheld the decision of the Chairman, BPSC and other official respondents including State of Bihar,  Secretary, BPSC and the Special Secretary-cum-Controller of Examinations. The candidature of appellants was rejected by the official respondents on account of non-furnishing of original character certificates (in case of Sweety Kumari and Vikramaditya Mishra) and law degree (in case of Aditi) respectively. 

The High Court in the first two cases dismissed the writ petitions relying upon the order passed in the case of a similarly situated candidate titled as Aarav Jain v. The Bihar Public Service Commission and Ors. (CWJC No. 24282/2019) decided on May 4, 2021. Whereas in the third case, the High Court while dealing with the case of the appellant Aditi and one similarly placed candidate named Ankita, through a common order found that though the appellant Aditi has her case on merits at par with Ankita, but due to non-availability of the vacancy in EWS category the relief as granted to Ankita cannot be extended to appellant Aditi. The appellants Sweety Kumari, a candidate of Scheduled Caste (SC) category and Vikramaditya Mishra, unreserved category candidate, appeared in 30th Bihar Judicial Service Competitive Examination conducted for selection of Civil Judge (Junior Division) pursuant to an Advertisement No. 6 of 2018 dated August 21, 2018/August 23, 2018. Both the candidates have been declared successful in the preliminary examination vide the results declared on January 7, 2019 and main examination vide result declared on October 5, 2019 after obtaining more marks than the cut-off for their respective category. Pursuant to this, they were called for interview vide letter dated December 15, 2019.  The candidature of the appellants Sweety Kumari and Vikramaditya Mishra was rejected on account of not producing the original character certificates at the time of interview. True photocopies were produced. However, while declaring the result on November 27, 2019/November 29, 2019, the candidature of the present two appellants as well as of one, Aarav Jain were rejected by a common communication. The appellant Aditi had applied in the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category in furtherance to the 31st Bihar Judicial Service Competitive Examination. She secured 501 marks, whereas cut-off was 499. Her candidature was rejected on the ground of not having the law degree certificate on the date of interview. The candidature of the similarly situated candidate Ankita was also cancelled on the same ground. However, on the filing of separate writ petitions which was disposed of by a common order, Ankita was granted relief by the High Court due to availability of vacancy in SC category, but Aditi was denied relief due to non-availability of the vacancy in the EWS category.

In this backdrop, the following questions were considered by the Supreme Court:
i) Whether the rejection of the candidatures of the appellants due to non-production of the original
certificate at the time of interview by the BPSC is justified?
ii) In the facts and circumstances of the case, what relief can be granted to the appellants?

After considering these questions, the Court directed that "The appellants Sweety Kumari and Vikramaditya Mishra be accommodated being successful candidate in the 30th Examination and appellant Aditi be accommodated being a successful candidate in the 31st Examination. We clarify that this judgment is passed in the peculiar facts of the case to mitigate the plea of discrimination to candidates who are before us and who knocked the door of the court well within time. It is made clear here that similarly situated candidates would not be entitled to claim the same benefit further, because they have not come before this Court within a reasonable time." The judgement dated September 22, 2023 was authored by Justices J.K. Maheshwari. The High Court received the order on October 6, 2023 from Assistant Registrar, Supreme Court of India.   

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