The Calcutta High Court on Friday cancelled and set aside the 1st State Level Selection Test, 2016 for recruitment of Assistant Teachers in Upper Primary schools in the State of West Bengal, citing several irregularities in the recruitment process.
A Single Bench of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya has directed the West Bengal Central School Service Commission, designated to conduct the said Test, to hold a fresh selection process of all the candidates who were found to be eligible under Rule 12(2) of the West Bengal School Service Commission (Selection for Appointment to the Posts of Teachers for Upper Primary Level of Schools) Rules, 2016 and proceed onwards from that stage.
“This Court is of the view that a selection process where the irregularities are stark and have not been accounted for, cannot be permitted to proceed or reach closure. This would mean that candidates whose academic and professional credentials have not been fairly evaluated or have not been evaluated at all, would be excluded from a fair process till the next State Level Selection Test, whenever that is announced,” the Bench observed.
It relied on several precedents whereby it is settled that cancelling the entire selection process and directing a fresh evaluation is a possible course of action if a Court finds that the selection process has been vitiated by irregularities or have been conducted de hors the Rules.
For instance, in Gohil Vishvaraj Hanubhai v. State of Gujarat, (2017) 13 SCC 621, the Supreme Court upon considering the large-scale malpractices relied upon the doctrine of proportionality and opined that the innocent candidates including the wrongdoers should get an opportunity of participating in a fresh examination process. Accordingly, it ordered for a fresh examination on spotting large scale malpractices in the examination process.
In the case at hand, the Petitioners had made a 6-pronged challenge to the selection process:
a) Lesser qualified candidates with inferior academic qualifications and lower TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) weightage have been included in the Merit List.
b) The Interview List has been published without disclosing the specific marks obtained by the candidates.
c) The Commission failed to prepare the Merit List in terms of the Rules. The Commission also failed to prepare the Interview List in the ratio of 1:1.4 of the final vacancies as mandated under the Rules.
d) Untrained candidates were brought into the zone of consideration in violation of the Rules.
e) Arbitrary awarding of marks in the Personality Tests/Interviews which would be evident from identical marks awarded to several candidates.
f) The Commission commenced the Personality Test of candidates in the Interview List without first publishing the final vacancy list.
The State Government had however contended that the writ petitions are not maintainable since Rules 18 and 20 of the 2016 Rules provide for a grievance-redressal mechanism under which an aggrieved candidate can approach the Central Commission from which a further reference can be made to the State Government.
It was also argued that the Petitioners do not have a right to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court during an ongoing selection process. They submitted that an applicant in a selection process does not have a right to appointment even if such person has been empanelled in the selection.
Further, it was argued that it is impermissible for a Court to make a roving inquiry and a fact-finding exercise into a selection process where a large number of candidates are involved. It was submitted that in such processes, there is a presumption in favour of the validity of civil and judicial acts unless otherwise proved.
The Court rejected all these arguments and held as follows:
As for the issue of maintainability, the Court was of the view that the Commission, being the appointed authority for conducting the selection from the start to the finish, cannot take on the role of an independent adjudicator or be equated with a second tier of challenge as is commonly provided under several statutes. “The remedy provided under the suggested Rules is akin to an in-house mechanism for dispute resolution,” it observed.
The second argument that an aggrieved candidate, even if selected, does not have an automatic right of appointment, was found to be “unreasonable” by the Court. It held,
“Asking a disgruntled candidate to wait till the recommendation is made and thereafter directing that candidate to the Commission for a decision deprives the candidate of a valuable right to question an unfair and arbitrary selection process before the recommendation stage is reached.“
As for the third issue raised by the State, the Court held that the same proceeds on the basis that systems of evaluation involving large numbers can afford to “overlook aberrations” where candidates can be permitted to slip through the selection-gates.
“It also assumes that the Court assessing the correctness of the selection can afford to turn a blind eye to such slips. This argument runs counter to the principle of fairness in any process of evaluation where the ultimate aim is to preserve merit and choose the best candidate in accordance with the mechanism devised by the recruiting body. This Court is of the firm view that the purity of a selection process will be irrevocably soiled even if one candidate can show that he/she has been unfairly excluded from the selection by reason of favouritism, nepotism or a pick-and-choose policy de hors the Rules,” the Bench said.
Case Title: Aktarul Islam Kayal & Ors. v. State of West Bengal & Ors.
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