‘Changing the Rules’ in Selection Processes for Public Appointments

Tej Prakash Pathak v Rajasthan High Court

The Supreme Court will decide whether the ‘rules of the game’ in a selection process for a public post can be changed after the selection process has been initiated.

Pending

Parties

Petitioners: Tej Prakash Pathak; Manoj Rai; Mahipal Singh Aashiya

Lawyers: Karan Singh Bhati; Devendra Singh; Vivek Narayan Sharma

Respondent : Rajasthan High Court

Lawyers: Sunil Kumar Jain

Case Details

Case Number: C.A. 2634/2013

Next Hearing: October 11, 2022

Last Updated: September 13, 2022

Key Issues

1

What are the ‘rules of the game’ in a selection process for a public that cannot be changed?

2

Do retrospective decisions during selection processes for posts violate Articles 14 and 16?

Case Description

On September 17th, 2009, the Rajasthan High Court issued a notification under the Rajasthan High Court Staff Service Rules, 2002 (the Rules) to begin the recruitment process to fill 13 vacant posts for translators. The Rules required candidates to appear for a written examination followed by a personal interview. However, after these two steps were completed, the erstwhile Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court, Jagadish Bhalla, decided that candidates must receive 75% or above in their examination to be selected for the post. As a result, only 3 of the 21 candidates were selected. 

Three unsuccessful candidates challenged the Chief Justice’s decision at the Rajasthan HC. However, the Rajasthan HC dismissed the case on March 11th, 2010. The unsuccessful candidates filed a petition at the SC appealing the Rajasthan HC’s decision on April 21st, 2011. A 3-Judge Bench comprising Justices R.M. Lodha, J. Chelameshwar, and M.B. Lokur heard the case. 

The candidates argued that introducing a 75% cutoff after the recruitment process was initiated amounted to ‘changing the rules of the game after the game is played’. This was held to be ‘clearly impermissible’ by  a 3-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in K. Manjusree v State of Andhra Pradesh (2008). Further, they argue that the Chief Justice’s retrospective decision was not authorised by a valid statute and violated the Right to Equality and the Right against Discrimination

The Rajasthan HC argued that strictly applying the decision from Manjusree would force them to hire the 13 candidates who scored relatively better than the others but had low scores overall. They referred to the SC’s Judgment in State of Haryana v Subhash Chander Marwaha (1973) which held that State governments can impose higher cutoff marks in order to maintain a high standard for selecting candidates. Further, they argued that the Court’s Judgment in Manjusree did not consider the decision from Subhash Chander Marwaha. 

The Bench referred the matter to a 5-Judge Constitution Bench on March 20th, 2013. The  Order referring the matter stated that the specific ‘rules of the game’ which cannot be changed required an authoritative pronouncement from a larger Bench of the SC. However, a Bench for the case was only constituted on August 29th, 2022. 

A 5-Judge Constitution Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee and comprising Justices H. Gupta, S. Kant, M.M. Sundresh, and S. Dhulia heard the case on August 30th, 2022. They listed the matter for final arguments starting from September 6th, 2022.