Upholding a woman Scheduled Caste candidate’s plea that answer sheets were deliberately destroyed by the authorities to favour certain candidates,the Supreme Court has directed the Haryana Public Service Commission to conduct fresh written test and interview to recruit Hindi lecturers.
A bench of justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya agreed with the complaint of the candidate Poonam Rani that the commission had malafidely destroyed the answer sheets of the examination held in October 2008 to avoid judicial scrutiny of the selection process.
Noting that the destruction of the answer sheets was contrary to the apex court’s earlier judgement and a resolution passed by the commission,the bench rejected the authorities’ plea that the scripts were destroyed due to certain confusion and inadvertence.
“The explanation given by the Secretary for not preserving the answer sheets for three months is frivolous and wholly unacceptable because it is neither the pleaded case of the commission nor the counsel appearing on its behalf argued that the concerned officers were not aware of resolution dated 1.10.1994.
“Therefore,the action of the officers of the commission to destroy the record cannot but be termed as wholly arbitrary and unjustified.
“The sole object of this exercise appears to be to ensure that in the event of challenge to the result of the selection,the court may not be able to scrutinize the record for the purpose of finding out whether the selection was fair and objective or the candidates had been subjected to invidious discrimination,” Justice Singhvi writing the judgement said.
The commission had earlier declined to select Poonam for the post of Hindi lecturer in the SC category on the ground that she had secured 117 marks out of 225 as against 119 marks secured by the last selected candidate of Scheduled Caste female category.
Her plea through the RTI for furnishing the answer sheets failed to get favourable response,upon which she moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court which too declined to interfere with the commission’s order following which she appealed in the apex court.
In Pritpal Singh v. State of Haryana (1994),the apex court had considered a similar issue and held that “the answer papers having been destroyed,it becomes impossible to ascertain what marks each candidate had secured.”
At that time,it had directed the Haryana Subordinate Services Selection Board to preserve the answer papers of the candidates and the tabulation of marks made by the examiners for at least three months after the declaration of the result of the selection.
In the present case,the bench said the affidavit filed by the Secretary of the commission clearly shows that within a few days of declaration of the result of the selection,answer sheets of the written examination held in June,2008 were destroyed.
This was done in blatant violation of Resolution (Commission) dated 1.10.1994,in terms of which the answer sheets could be destroyed after three months from the date of declaration of the result of the selection.”
The apex court also found fault in the manner in which the single judge and later a division bench of the high court refused to interfere with the plea of the candidate.
“The learned single judge and the division bench of the high court did not pay serious attention to the blatant violation of the resolutions passed by the commission on the issue of destruction of the record of the selection and erroneously assumed that in the absence of allegations of malafides against the particular officials/officers of the commission,the court was not required to go into the legality of their action to destroy the answer sheets within few days of declaration of the result of the selection.
“The OMR sheets produced for the first time before this court cannot be relied upon for recording a finding that the assessment of the candidates’ performance in the written examination was transparent and fair,” Justice Singhvi said.
According of the apex court,if the functionaries of the commission were confident that the selection was not vitiated by any illegality,favouritism or nepotism,then they should not have destroyed the answer sheets within few days of the declaration of the result of the selection.
It ordered that “the commission is directed to hold fresh written test and interview for considering the candidature of the appellant and other unsuccessful candidates after giving them due intimation about the date,time and place of the examination and interview.
“This exercise should be completed within a period of four months from the date of receipt/production of this order.
“The candidates who are selected on the basis of the exercise undertaken pursuant to this direction shall become entitled to be appointed against the vacancies which may be available on the date of finalisation of the selection,” the bench added.