The Supreme Court has taken a serious view of the matter where incomplete criminal law question paper was handed over to candidates during the Punjab/ Haryana Superior Judicial Service Examination in 2019.

The Bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Justice CT Ravikumar observed that when the question paper was supplied initially, it contained only four questions (i.e. question nos.1, 2, 3 and 5), and the question paper was distributed to all the candidates containing four questions and question no.4 was found to be missing.

However, after the objection being raised by the candidates of question no.4 not made available, the Invigilators gave a supplementary sheet to the candidates after one hour of the main examination commenced i.e. by 9.00 a.m.

"…this is a serious lapse on the part of the recruiting authority and somebody must be held responsible for it and such kind of lapses certainly cannot be countenanced by this Court…", the Bench held.

The Court ordered for revised declaration of the result of written examination.

The Bench directed valuation of question nos.1, 2, 3 and 5 of Paper V (Criminal Law) of 160 marks while valuating the marks secured by the candidates in Paper V (Criminal Law) and directed to exclude question no.4 which was supplemented at a later stage.

The facts of the case were that two separate advertisements came to be published for holding competitive examination for direct recruitment for 8 vacancies in the Punjab Superior Judicial Service and 11 vacancies in the Haryana Superior Judicial Service, 2019.

In total 348 candidates participated in the selection process and appeared in the common written examination. The result of the written examination was declared on 18th December, 2019.

One of the candidate-appellant who had not qualified in the written examination filed a writ petition before the High Court of Punjab and Haryana with the grievance that the condition in the advertisement of securing minimum 40% or more marks in each paper for qualifying for viva­voce was contrary to the Punjab/Haryana Superior Judicial Services Rules.

He also raised the grievance of incomplete question paper as stated above.

All objections raised by the appellant were repelled by the High Court at the motion stage.

Aggrieved, appellant-approached Supreme Court.

Appellant appeared in­-person whereas Advocate Abhimanyu Tewari represented Punjab and Haryana High Court.

On the contention of the appellant that Paper VI (General Knowledge), multiple choice/objective type paper, there were no instructions on the overleaf of the examination paper as to how the paper has to be attempted by the candidates, the Court observed thus "That all the candidates who had appeared in Paper VI (General Knowledge) had a common level playing field and in the absence of any material on record in rebuttal, the submission is not sustainable and deserves rejection."

However, the Court advised that "…to keep transparency in the process of holding examination, particularly in such cases where there is a multiple­choice question paper, it is always advisable that for such question papers, there shall always be an OMR sheet which may be provided to the candidates so that the question paper can be retained by each of the participants and after the examination is held, a provisional answer key is to be uploaded…"

Further, a request was made to the Court that since those candidates who had qualified in the written examination and had appeared in the viva­voce and whose result has been withheld, at least they may not be called upon to appear for interview afresh.

On this, the Court noted thus "We find it difficult to uphold the submission made for the reason that the interview board which conducted the viva­voce of the candidates who qualified in the written examination was different, there are hardly candidates who had qualified against the number of vacancies and it would be advisable that there should be one common board to evaluate the performance of all the candidates who may now qualify in the revised declaration of the result of written examination and that, in our view, would do justice to the candidates."

Cause Title- Harkirat Singh Ghuman v. Punjab & Haryana High Court & Ors.

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