Larger Bench of SC to decide fate of selection process in Higher Judicial Services

A Bench consisting of Justices Kurian Joseph and R. Banumathi has referred a matter with respect to the selection process of District & Sessions Judges in the Kerala Higher Judicial Services to a larger bench of the Supreme Court.

The two Judge Bench was hearing a writ petition regarding the selection procedure of District & Sessions Judges in the Kerala Higher Judicial Service in the year 2015. As per the Notification dated 30.9.2015, the selection was to be conducted by written examination and viva-voce. The written examination consisted of two papers and carried a total of 300 marks (150 marks for each paper). The viva-voce was for 50 marks. It was stipulated that those general and OBC candidates who secured 50 per cent in the written examination without any separate minimum and SC/ST who secured 40 per cent were qualified to participate in the viva-voce.

The main ground on which this writ petition was filed comes against the backdrop of two selections in the years 2013 and 2014 respectively. There was a resolution of the Full Court dated 13.12.2012 saying that “there should be no minimum cut-off marks for the interview. As per the resolution, the final merit list was to be prepared in the following manner:

“..The merit list of successful candidates will be prepared on the basis of the total marks obtained in the written examination and viva-voce.”

As a matter of fact, two selections were held in the years 2013 and 2014 without cut-off marks for the viva-voce. As per the Resolution dated 13.12.2012, after publishing the result of the examination, the candidates were interviewed by the Selection Committee. However, after the viva-voce, the Administrative Committee (consisting of the same members as the Selection Committee) resolved to draw up a list of successful candidates on the basis of same separate minimum percentage of marks in the viva-voce as in the written examination. According to the Administrative Committee, the fixing of the minimum marks for the viva-voce was not a deviation from the approved scheme since “it was never the intention of the Full Court to select persons who do not attain the minimum required bench mark for such a responsible post”. The merit list thus drawn by the Administrative Committee on the basis of the minimum marks in the viva-voce was approved by the Full Court and those candidates were appointed accordingly.  That selection was challenged in this case.

The main contention of the present petition is that the “rules of the game could not have been changed after the game is played and the result of the game is known to the selectors.”

The Court observed that the decision of a two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in K. Manjusree v. State of Andhra Pradesh and another (2008) 3 SCC 512, squarely applies to the facts of the present case.

In Manjusree, 75 marks were allotted for the written examination and 25 marks for the interview. The aggregate governed the merit.  However, the written examination was conducted for 100 marks. When the Full Court noticed this, a sub-committee was appointed to make the arithmetical correction to scale down the marks in the written examination to 75 instead of 100. The sub-committee did two things – (1) it made the arithmetical correction (2) it introduced the same cut-off percentage for the interview as in the written examination and thus revised the merit list, which was approved by the Full Court. In the process, a few candidates were removed from the original merit list including Manjusree. A Bench of three Judges of the Supreme Court had held that “introduction of the requirement of the minimum marks for interview, after the entire selection process (consisting of written examination and interview) was completed, would amount to changing the rules of the game after the game was played which is clearly impermissible”. The Bench had specifically noted that the Resolution of the Full Court to not specifically stipulate minimum marks for viva-voce was still in force. Yet, when the sub-committee introduced the change, the same was approved by the Full Court.

However, the Court also considered the fact that a Bench of Supreme Court, in Tej Prakash Pathak and others v. Rajasthan High Court and others (2013) 4 SCC 540, had specifically doubted the correctness of Manjusree on the point whether “….changing the rules of the game after the game was played…. is clearly impermissible” and has made a reference to a larger Bench for an authoritative pronouncement. The Court also found relevant to note in this context that in Salam Samarjeet Singh v. High Court of Manipur At Imphal and Anr. (2016) 10 SCC 484,  which dealt with a similar issue and was heard by a three Judge Bench in view of the difference of opinion and it has also since been posted along with Tej Prakash by order dated 10.08.2017.

Hence, the two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court found it appropriate to refer this matter also to the larger bench to be heard along with Tej Prakash and gave orders accordingly.

Read the Order Below:

Cover Image by Legaleagle86 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.


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