Cancellation of recruitment for public employment justified due to systemic fraud: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that if recruitment for public employment stood vitiated as a consequence of systemic fraud or irregularities, the entire process would become illegitimate, and be a strong reason to cancel the examination.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah observed that there may be situations where the nature of the irregularities may be manifold, and the number of candidates involved is of such a magnitude that it is impossible to precisely delineate or segregate the tainted from the untainted.

The top court stressed that the decisions of the recruiting body are hence subject to judicial control subject to the settled principle that the recruiting authority must have a measure of discretion to take decisions in accordance with law which are best suited to preserve the sanctity of the process.

The bench, at the outset, said that constitutional values which undergird Articles 14 and 16 mandate that selection processes conducted by public authorities to make recruitments have to be fair, transparent and accountable. However, often human fallibility and foibles intrude into the selection processes, noted the top court.

“The requirement that a public body must act in fair and reasonable terms animates the entire process of selection,” noted the bench in its 66-page judgement.

The bench emphasised that a considered decision of the authority based on the material before it taken bona fide should not lightly be interfered in the exercise of the powers of judicial review unless it stands vitiated on grounds of unreasonableness or proportionality.

“Recruitment to public services must command public confidence. Persons who are recruited are intended to fulfil public functions associated with the functioning of the government. Where the entire process is found to be flawed, its cancellation may undoubtedly cause hardship to a few who may not specifically be found to be involved in wrongdoing,” the bench said.

The top court upheld the Delhi government decision of March 15, 2016 cancelling the Tier-I and Tier-II examinations held for recruitment to the post of head clerk. The court allowed an appeal by the Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board against the Delhi High Court’s judgement which set aside the decision to cancel the recruitment examinations.

The bench noted that it is not sufficient to nullify the decision to cancel an examination where the nature of the wrongdoing cuts through the entire process so as to seriously impinge upon the legitimacy of the examinations which have been held for recruitment.

“Both the high court and the tribunal have, in our view, erred in laying exclusive focus on the report of the second Committee which was confined to the issue of impersonation,” noted the top court.

The bench cited that the irregularities were not confined to acts of mal-practice or unfair means on the part of a specific group of persons.

“On the contrary, the report of the committee found deficiencies of a systemic nature which cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of the entire process of recruitment involving both the Tier-I and Tier-II examinations,” added the bench.

The bench said these violations may or may not involve all the candidates within the ultimate zone of selection. “But that in our view is besides the point for the simple reason that the gravamen of the charge in the present case is not in regard to the taint which attaches to a specific group of persons but to the sanctity of the recruitment process as a whole,” said the top court.

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