INTERVIEW & SELECTION PROCESS

AIR 2001 SC 152.

PETITIONER: PRAVEEN SINGH

Vs.

RESPONDENT: STATE OF PUNJAB & ORS.

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/11/2000

BENCH:

G.B. Pattanaik, & Umesh C Banerjee.

JUDGMENT:

BANERJEE,J.

Arbitrariness  being  opposed to reasonableness is an  ante-

thesis   to  law.   There  cannot,   however,  be  any  exact

definition  of   arbitrariness  neither  can  there  be any

straight  jacket formula evolved therefor, since the same is

dependent on the varying facts and circumstances of each case.

The  basic  facts  pertaining  to  the appeal against the judgment  of the High Court depict that the Writ Petition of the  appellant was dismissed by the High Court on the ground that  there  is no  infraction of law neither  the  Public Service Commission in the State of Punjab has deviated from the  criteria laid down for selection of candidates for the post  of Block  Development and Panchayat   Officer.  Incidentally  the grievance of the Writ Petitioner-appellant pertains to violations of the equality clause under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution read with provisions of Punjab Development  and  Panchayat Class-II (Service) Rules,  1974.  On  the   factual  score it appears that the Punjab  Public Service Commission in June, 1993 issued an advertisement for  26 vacancies of Block Development and Panchayat Officers but before        the  process  of selection could be  finalised,  the Government  of Punjab filled up the vacancies through ad hoc appointments  by  reason  wherefor, the  Service  Commission considered  it     fit  not to proceed with the  selection any further.  The records depict that these ad hoc appointments, however   by the order of the High Court in a Petition  under Article  226  stands  quashed and the appeal  therefrom    was dismissed  by  this  Court.    This  Court,  however,  while rejecting  the  appeal was  pleased to           direct  the  Public Service     Commission  (Punjab)  to complete  the            process  of selection  by  9th  July, 1995 and in terms  therewith,   the Service Commission issued a corrigendum to the advertisement but the vacancies were enhanced from 28 to 44 for reasons of exigencies of the situation.  It is against this corrigendum to  the advertisement about 4,500 people appeared in written test  and  subsequently roll numbers of 130 candidates  only were  published,  being eligible to appear in the viva voce test.            On 9th July, 1995 the final result was announced and the  names  and          roll numbers of candidates who        were  found suitable  for appointments were published in order of merit. The  petitioners name, however, did not figure in the merit list,  which  stands challenged in the Writ Petition  before the  High  Court but the same however stands negated by   the High Court and hence the appeal before this Court.  The bone of contention raised in the appeal is the non- consideration of  the   marks secured           by the candidates  in the  written examination  while  determining            the overall  merit  of the candidates  and the real merit has been ignored at the            time of  preparation of select list by the Service Commission and in  this  context,  strong  reliance   was  placed  on       the information  sheet as circulated by the Service         Commission, relevant  extracts of which are as below:  EXAM.1/93 PUNJAB PUBLIC   SERVICE COMMISSION, PATIALA  Information  Sheet           and  Instructions  to Candidates BLOCK DEVELOPMENT AND  PANCHAYAT

OFFICERS  EXAMINATION, 1993 IM PO RT AN T NO TE :- xx xx  xx xx xx xx xx xx CLOSING DATE

Vacancies and Reservations:

                        .Qualifications:

Scheme of Examination: 

3.   There will be four papers for written test (a) General Knowledge including everyday science;

(b) General English/Essay,

(c)  Community Development Panchayat Raj  and Agricultural Development

(d)  Punjabi  Language            test   of  matriculation   Standard, followed  by  viva voce test.  The qualifying  standard          and syllabus etc.  is given in the rules attached.

            xxxx                 xxxx                        xxxx

12(1).   The  examination  will           consist  of  the  following subjects and marks indicated against each:

S.No.  Subject Standard ofMaximum The papersmarks@@

                                      IIIIIII       IIIII

1.  English/English  BA/BSc.  Of the   100

    Punjab University @@

    IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

2.   Punjabi (in Matriculation of 50 Gurmukhi Script) Punjab@@

                                                 IIIIJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ

     school Education Board@@

                IIIIIIIIIIIIIII

3.   General Knowledge               BA/BSc. Of the            100

     Punjab University

4.  Community As per detailed 100 Development Syllabus in@@

                                                  JJJJJJJJJJJ

    para 6

    Raj and below.  Agricultural@@

    JJJJJJJJJJJJJJ

5.  Viva Voce  50

            xx                                 xxx                                           xxxx

2.   No candidate shall be eligible to appear in  the viva voce  test unless he obtains 33 per cent marks in each paper and 45 per cent marks in aggregate.

            xx                     xxx                   xxxx

Paragraph 12(1) of the document thus expressly provides that the  examination  shall consist of four      different  subjects with  100 marks each for three subjects and fifty marks (50)

stand  earmarked for the 4th vernacular (Punjabi in Gurmukhi script)        totaling  350 marks and further 50 marks  for       viva voce  test.   The  essentiality of viva       voce  test  however stands    established by reason of express narration under the scheme of examination viz.  followed by viva voce  test. In  the event of there being a written test for elimination, the  scheme of the examination would not have been  detailed in  the manner as it has been so stated.  Paragraph 3 of the instructions  refers  to  the rules  for  laying  down   the qualifications       and  the  syllabus   for  the            examination. Admittedly,  these rules have been framed by the Governor of Punjab in exercise of his power under the proviso to Article 309.  Rule 5 of the Rules referred to the qualification that a  person can be appointed to the service who possesses     the educational  and other qualifications specified in  Appendix

B.   In Appendix  B,  the posts of  Block  Development and  Panchayat   Officers   appear  at   item  No.20   and  the qualifications  mentioned  therein  are   as  below: (i) Graduate  of  a      recognised   University;   Preference            to Graduate  in Agriculture;  (ii) Knowledge of Punjab language  upto Matriculation or equivalent standard;  (iii) Candidates  will  be required to qualify the following written tests  at the time of recruitment;

 (i)         General Knowledge                     100 marks

(ii)        General English/Essay of

             BA Standard                                 100 marks 

(iii)       Community Development                        100 marks

             Panchayati Raj and Agricultural@@

             JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ

            Development 

(iv)       Punjabi language test of               50 marks

             matriculation standard

(v)        Viva Voce                                     100 marks

The  qualifying standard in the test will be 33% pass  marks

in each paper and 45 per cent in the aggregate.@@

   JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ

It  is     on  the basis   of   the  rules together  with the information  sheet  as noticed herein before, that the            High Court  came to the conclusion that there is no arbitrariness  in  the matter of selection of candidates.  The said finding stands challenged before us principally on the ground      that there is existing a dual requirement viz., written test  as also  the  viva-voce test and the marks obtained therein  in both  counts  ought  to have formed part of the       process  of determining  the merit and the Public Service Commission had no  authority or jurisdiction to effect the selection solely on  the       basis of the performance of the candidates  at        the viva  voce  examination.  The respondents however  contended that  since  it     was not possible to interview about  4,500 candidates,  the  Public  Service Commission resorted  to  a written elimination  test  in order  to  facilitate       the interview  process or the viva voce test.  It was  contended that as a matter of fact 130 candidates have been called for the  viva voce test out of 4,500 approximately as against 44 vacant       posts:   A short digration from the facts however may not  be     totally unjustified at this juncture by  reason  of enormity  of the issue of available employment    opportunity. 4,500  persons    applied for 40 vacancies  a  rather  sordid state  of affairs, - employment opportunities are so  meagre as  compared  to the need and the situation has reacted        its optimum         without any indication even of a descending  trend. Needless  to record that this is not in Punjab only but this is reflected every State in the country  in some States the ratio  being still be higher  we are however not expressing any  opinion  but recording factum only so as to  focus        the the problem. respondent of Turning on to the contentions as raised by the respondent  herein that the written test on the wake of         the documentary  evidence available in the records cannot but be termed           to  be   a  mere qualifying test      and  since  Service Commission  has proceeded to select the candidates  on        the basis  of the performance of the candidates at the viva voce examination the actions cannot be faulted in any way neither can  the  same be ascribed to be arbitrary  or      capricious. Relying upon the aforesaid, however, the High Court observed that even though the rule is not properly articulated but on a  rational  interpretation,  there is no  escape  from the conclusion  that passing of the written test with 33%  marks in each paper and 45% marks in aggregate does not ipso facto entitle            a  candidate to be called for viva  voce/interview. The  High  Court  however  proceeded on          the  right  of the employer  for short-listing and screening since the same has been recognised by the law courts keeping in view the ground reality,  as it is otherwise a well-neigh impossibility     for the  selecting agency to interview all the candidates.  The High  Court  also  took    into consideration  the  number  of candidates  and the time that shall be otherwise consumed in the  event of interview of a larger number of people and  as  such  the High Court came to the conclusion that the  Punjab Public    Service  Commission  was  justified  in  adopting  a rational   yardstick  for  short-listing   the  number         of candidates  for            viva  voce  test and  no  arbitrariness  or illegality  can       be  attributed therein and  the  factum  of judging      the  merits of the candidates on the basis of viva  voce  test  being  prevalent in the  Punjab  Public  Service Commission  since  the          year 1978 has also been         taken  into consideration  by the High Court.  While it is true that the administrative          or quasi-judicial authority clothed with the power  of  selection  and  appointment       ought  to  be   left unfettered  in adaptation of procedural aspect but that does not  however  mean  and imply that the same  would  be    made available  to  an  employer at the cost of fair play,   good conscience  and          equity. 

 This    Court in the case  of  J P Kulshreshtha  & Ors.  v.  Chancellor, Allahabad University & Ors.   [AIR  1980  SC 2141] did recognise  the undetectable  manipulation  of  results being achieved by  remote  control tacits and masked as viva voce test resulting the sabotaging of  the purity of proceedings.        This Court held  interviews  as  such are not bad but polluting it to attain illegitimate ends  is bad.  What does Kulshreshthas case(supra) depict? Does  it  say  that  interview   should be  only  method  of assessment  of         the  merits of the candidates? The  answer  obviously  cannot  be  in  the affirmative.   The  vice  of manipulation,  we  are afraid cannot be ruled  out.   Though interview  undoubtedly a significant factor in the matter of appointments. It plays a strategic role but it also allows creeping in  of  a   lacuna  rendering  the appointments illegitimate.  Obviously it is an important factor but ought not  to        be the sole guiding factor since  reliance  thereon only  may  lead    to  a sabotage   of  the  purity  of         the proceedings.

 A long catena of decisions of this Court have been noted by the High Court in the judgment but we need not dilate thereon neither we even wish to sound a contra note. In  Ashok  Kumars  case  [Ashok Kumar Yadav  v. State  of Haryana :1985 (3)  SLR  200] this  Court  however  in  no uncertain  terms observed:  There can therefore be no  doubt that  the viva voce test performs a very useful function  in assessing  the     personal characteristics and traits  and  in fact  tests the man himself and is therefore regarded as  an important  tool along with the written examination (emphasis supplied).   The situation envisaged by Chinnappa Reddy,  J. in  Lila Dhars case [Lila Dhar vs.  State of Rajasthan :AIR 1981 SC 1777] on which strong reliance was placed is totally different from the contextual facts and the reliance thereon is  also totally misplaced.  Chinnappa Reddy, J.   Discussed about  the  case  of  services         to  which  recruitment           has necessarily been made from persons of mature personality and it  is in that perspective it was held that interview  test may  be the only way subject to basic and essential academic and  professional requirements being satisfied The facts in the  present context deal with Block Development Officers at the  Panchayat       level.   Neither  the  job  requires  mature personality  nor  the recruitment should be on the basis  of interview  only, having regard to the nature and requirement of the concerned jobs.           In any event, the Service Commission itself has recognised a written test as also viva voce test. The  issue  therefore  pertains as to whether  on  a  proper interpretation of the rules read with the instructions note, the  written  examination  can be  deemed  to     be  a  mere qualifying examination and the appointment can only be given through viva voce test - a plain reading of the same however would  negate  the question as posed.  A close look  at the qualification  as  prescribed  and  the information  sheet, however, in    our  view   would  depict  otherwise.         The qualifications      prescribes  that  the candidates  will  be required  to  qualify for the following written test at  the time  of  recruitment and the qualification standard in         the test  has  been fixed tobe at 33% pass marks in    each  paper with 45% however in the aggregate (emphasised) and paragraph 4  of the Information sheet, as above, in no uncertain term records that no candidate shall be eligible to appear in the viva voce test unless he obtains 33% marks in each paper and 45% marks in the aggregate.  Reading the two requirements as above, in  our view question of having  the  written test written off in the matter of selection does not and  cannot arise.  Had  it been the intent of the Service Commission, then and in that event question of there being a totality of marks would not have been included therein and together with specified  marks  for viva voce tests, would not  have   been there neither there would have any requirement of qualifying pass  marks  nor  there would have any         aggregate  marks  as  noticed above.            Further, in the event, the interview was the sole  criteria          and  the  written   test  being treated  as qualifying test, the Public Service Commission ought to have clearly       stated  that upon   completion  of  the   written elimination  test,  selection would be made on the basis  of  the  viva voce test only as is available in the decision  of  Ashok  & Ors.  v.  State of Karnataka (1992 (1) SCC 28).  Be it  noted that there is always a room for suspicion for  the common appointments if the oral interview is taken up as the only  criteria.            Of course, there are posts and posts, where interviews  can      be a safe method of appointment but to  the post  of a Block Development Officer or a Panchayat  Officer wherein about 4500 people applied for 40 posts,  interview  cannot           be  said  to be a satisfactory method  of  selection though however  it may be a part thereof  In  the  factual score  we have the advantage of having the Rules prescribing the  mode and method of appointments and specific marks  are earmarked  for written  examinations  of  various  subjects together  with    totality of marks for viva voce test.  As  a  matter of  fact  out of 450 marks only 50 marks  have     been  allotted  for  interview by the Service Commission itself  - why  these  400 marks allotted for a written examination  in four  different subjects, if interview was to be the guiding factor:              there has  been however, no answer  to  the same excepting  that  the  Court ought not to  interfere  in  the matter of selection process in the absence of mala fides true  it is that in the event the selection is tainted  with mala  fides, it would be a plain exercise of judicial  power to  set right the wrong but is it also realistic to assume that  when the Commission in clear and categorical  language recorded  that 450 marks would be the total marks  for the examination and out of which only 50 marks are earmarked for viva  voce test, the Commission desired that these 50  marks would  be relevant and crucial and the other 400 marks would be  rendered  totally, superfluous and of no effect at            all. The  language used is rather plain and is not capable of the interpretation as  is being presented before us during   the course     of  hearing and as has been held by the High  Court. Reliance on 50 marks only and thereby avoiding the other 400 marks  cannot in our view having due regard to the  language used, be   said  to  be   reasonable or  devoid  of any arbitrariness. The action of the respondent Commission thus is  wholly  unreasonable, unfair and not in accordance     with the  declared principles.  Appointment procedure is  evident from  the documentary evidence disclosed in the           proceedings and  the Commission ought to have taken note of the  written examination  results as well.  As a matter of fact the High Court  while  recording          its  acceptance to  the  method  of selection  on  the  basis of the viva voce  test  only,  was pleased   to  observe  as below:            However,  we  consider          it absolutely  imperative to observe that the Government should get the rules examined and make proper amendment so that its intention  of making distinction between qualifying test and viva  voce test does not remain obscure.  We also direct the PPSC  to  take           extra precautions while issuing any  future advertisement  so that no inconsistency remains between the rules and the contents of the advertisement.

The  High Court admittedly therefore found inconsistency and obscurity in the entire process and as a matter of fact, the High  Court has suggested incorporation of proper amendments in the rules so as to avoid confusion and obscurity.  We are however,  constrained to note that having come to a  finding about  the  inconsistency and obscurity in the process,         the High  Court  thought it fit to decry the claim of  the  writ petitioner  being  the appellant herein on the plea  of the employers  right but the documents through which the  right flows  indicates  a contra situation and as such the  action suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and unreasonableness warranting  intervention of this Court.         On the wake of          the above,      the  order  of the High Court stands set  aside     and quashed.   Consequently the appointments are also set aside. The  Public  Service Commission is directed to complete the process of selections in terms of the existing rules so that both  the  written  and         the viva voce test  be taken into consideration for the purpose of effecting appointments.  It is  made clear that no further advertisement or         examination shall  take place but reconsideration of the entire  process be effected upon due reliance on the written as well as viva voce  test.   The process be completed within a period of  3 months from the date thereof.  It is further made clear that the  appointments  if any, already made shall continue,  but shall  be  subject  to         the further  results  which  may  be declared  by  the  Public Service Commission  in  regard  to filling         up of the posts of Block Development and  Panchayat Officers.   The   appeal thus stands allowed.  There  will however be no order as to costs.

 

 

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