Altering Rules on Appointment to Public Posts | Day 1: ManipurAltering Rules on Appointment to Public Posts
The Supreme Court reverted the case challenging the Manipur High Court’s 2015 Resolution about District Judge appointments to a 3-Judge Bench.
The petitioner, a member of the SC/ST category aspired to be a District Judge in Manipur. He was one of 17 persons who appeared for the Manipur District Judicial Exam in 2013.
As per a High Court’s notification in 2013, applications were sought to fill one vacancy as a District Judge. The General Rules of the selection specified that the selection process would comprise a written and oral examination. The written exam comprised three papers of 100 marks each and a viva of 60 marks. To qualify for the viva, candidates in the General category had to secure at least 50% of the total marks and candidates in the SC/ST category had to secure at least 50% of the total marks in the written examination. There was no such ‘cut-off’ for the viva round.
17 candidates appeared for the written examination that year. On October 17th, 2013 the High Court declared that none of them had qualified for the oral rounds.
The petitioner filed a Right to Information application and found that he had secured 52% in the written examination. Therefore, he approached the High Court seeking a review of his candidature. The High Court informed him that he was, in fact, the only person to qualify that year.
Interestingly, on January 12th, 2015, the full High Court passed a resolution specifically in the case of the petitioner of the current case. They imposed a 40% cut-off for the oral round as well.
The petitioner appeared for the viva on February 12th, 2023. He did not secure the required marks stated in the resolution of the High Court and was therefore disqualified.
He approached the Supreme Court through a writ petition in 2015. A Division Bench of the Court referred the case to a larger Bench.
Sr. Adv. Rana Mukherjee: The Manipur High Court’s Resolution Was Wrong
Appearing on behalf of the petitioner, Senior Advocate Mukherjee argued that the High Court could not change the rules of the selection process after the process was initiated. This greatly disadvantaged the petitioner. At the time of his application, the selection process rules did not include a cut-off for the oral round. He only had to secure above 50% in the written round to qualify and he had. Changing this adversely affected his chances to become a Judge.
Further, the resolution was aimed at the petitioner alone. It was impermissible to form rules or change them when they impact a single person. He claimed that case law had established that an order cannot be passed to disadvantage a single individual.
Manipur High Court: The Vacancy was for an ‘Unreserved’ Candidate
Sr. Adv. Vijay Hansaria representing the Manipur High Court claimed that the petitioner’s case had no merit. He anchored his arguments on the fact that the call for application had stated that the vacancy was for a person in the ‘unreserved’ category. So, a candidate had to secure 60% of the total marks to qualify for the post. The petitioner in the present case secured only 52% and was therefore not eligible for the post in the first place.
Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud however, quickly invalidated this argument. He pointed out that candidates in the reserved category could apply for positions in the unreserved category.
Order of the Bench
The Bench contemplated the appropriate relief considering the events pertaining to the case that transpired 10 years ago. They pointed out that the petitioner was in his 40s now and pondered if it was possible to have a long career as a Judge at this stage. Mr. Mukherjee responded that it was still possible for the petitioner to have a career spanning 14 years.
After about 1.5 hours of hearings on merits, the Bench’s attention was brought to the fact that the initial judgement was delivered by two judges. Based on this, the Bench reverted the case to be decided by a 3-Judge Bench. The Chief assured the petitioners that he would assign it to a Bench soon.