Changing the Rules in Selection Processes #1: Bench Orders Petitioners to Submit Short Notes on Individual Cases

‘Changing the Rules’ in Selection Processes for Public Appointments

On September 6th 2022, a 5-Judge Constitution Bench led by Justice Indira Banerjee and comprising Justices Hemant Gupta, Surya Kant, M.M. Sundresh, and Sudhanshu Dhulia heard arguments on whether the rules in selection processes for public appointments can be changed after the selection process has started. 

The Rajasthan High Court conducted a selection process for translators in September 2009. The process included a written examination followed by a personal interview. However, before the written exam results were released, the HC decided that candidates must secure 75%  in the exam to qualify for the interview. Three unsuccessful candidates challenged this change in the eligibility criteria, arguing that it amounted to ‘changing the rules’ after the selection process had begun. 

The candidates challenged the change in criteria at the Rajasthan HC but case was dismissed in March 2010. The case reached the Supreme Court in April 2011. It was referred to a 5-Judge Constitution Bench on March 20th, 2013. Multiple petitions challenging alleged changes in the criteria for selecting district Judges in States like Kerala and Gujarat are being heard in this case as well.

Does Introducing a Cut-Off Mark Amount to ‘Changing the Rules’

The lawyer appearing for the unsuccessful candidates began by stating that the Rajasthan HC introduced the 75% cut-off one day before the results of the written examination were announced. This, she argued, amounted to changing the rules for the selection process after it had already begun. 

Justice Hemant Gupta pushed back against this argument. He stated that this was not a change in the rules, merely an introduction of a minimum qualification for the position. Justice M.M. Sundresh followed up, suggesting that this was the issue the Court had to decide—does the introduction of a cut-off mark amount to changing the rules of the selection process? 

Justice Indira Banerjee, relying on her experience as an HC Judge correcting exam papers for judicial officers, said that on-the-spot decisions often have to be made in order to maintain standards in recruitment. She emphasised the importance of translators in the judicial system, stating that they must have a strong command of the language and minor errors can have major consequences. 

Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the Rajasthan HC, outlined the issues the Bench would have to consider in this case. First, the Court must determine what amounts to a change in the rules for a selection process once it has already begun. Second, the Court must consider if the changes in the selection processes in the present cases amounted to changing the rules. 

She further argued that the Rajasthan HC’s decision was meant to place more rigorous scrutiny on the translator candidates and was not arbitrary.

 

As there are a large number of petitioners in the case, the Bench instructed each of lawyers to submit a short note detailing the facts of their specific cases by September 9th, 2022. The next hearing will be held on September 13th, 2022.