No Estoppel Against Law: SC Allows Plea Of Candidates Who Participated In Selection Process And Challenged It Thereafter
The Supreme Court has held that the principle of estoppel cannot override the law. The Bench of Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Vikram Nath reiterated that if the law requires something to be done in a particular manner then it must be done in that manner, if not done so then it would not have any existence in the eyes of law.
In this context, the Bench held - "...it has been laid down that there can be no estoppel against law. If the law requires something to be done in a particular manner, then it must be done in that manner, and if it is not done in that manner, then it would have no existence in the eye of the law."
The Court was adjudicating upon whether the principle of estoppel and acquiescence will prevail over law.
In this case, the Banaras Hindu University had invited applications from permanent Class IV employees for promotion to Junior Clerk. It was prescribed in the notification issued by the university that a typing test would be conducted followed by Two papers of simple English, Hindi, and Arithmetic. The notification further stated that if an employee doesn't pass the typing test and is otherwise eligible for promotion then such employee shall be promoted provided that he/she passes the typing test within two years from the date of their promotion.
However, later it was informed that the final merit list would be based on the marks obtained in a typing test, written test, and interview. All these tests were conducted and merit list was prepared and 14 selected candidates were issued appointment letters.
The appellants made a representation against the appointments but it was rejected by the competent authority. Aggrieved by this they filed a writ petition on the ground that the Advertisement/Notification, which was issued laying down the eligibility conditions, did not provide for an interview. In the petition, it was further averred that later on the Board of Examiners, which did not have any authority or power to amend paragraph 6.4 laying down the eligibility conditions, introduced an interview.
During the course of arguments respondents-BHU agreed that the Board of Examiners had no authority to alter the eligibility conditions and it was also admitted that only the Executive Council, could have amended or modified the procedure/eligibility.
After considering the entire material on record, the Single Judge held that the Board of Examiners committed a grave error in making selections by awarding marks on the type test, written test, and interview. Accordingly, it set aside the appointments for the Class III post and further directed BHU to hold fresh selections for promotion to the post of ClassIII.
Thereafter respondents-BHU and candidates whose promotion was set aside filed a special appeal. The Division Bench held that the appellants having appeared in the examination process as also the interview without any protest, upon being unsuccessful could not have challenged the selection process. The Division Bench relied on a catena of cases and set aside the judgment of the Single Judge.
Aggrieved by the decision of the Division Bench, appellants moved Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court observed that according to para 6.4 of the Manual duly approved by the Executive Council all Class-IV employees, who had put in five years' service and passed matriculation examination or equivalent, were eligible for promotion to the post of Junior Clerk Grade.
The Court also observed that as per the procedure prescribed for promotion of Group D Class IV employees to the cadre of Junior Clerk if an eligible candidate cleared the written test of simple English, Hindi, and Arithmetic and also passed the typing test, then he/she was entitled to be placed in the seniority list for promotion.
The Court further observed that where eligible candidates had passed the departmental written test of simple English, Hindi, and Arithmetic, but could not pass the typing test, they would still be eligible for promotion and be placed in the seniority list provided that they qualify for the typing test within two years.
The Court held that in the present case the entire procedure was changed. "the Board of Examiners comprising of large number of Members changed the entire procedure and they established a completely new procedure. They awarded 20 marks for the type test treating it to be compulsory, 60 marks for the written departmental test of simple English, Hindi and Arithmetic with 20 marks for each subject and further introduced an interview of 20 marks. Thus, the merit list was to be prepared on the total 100 marks as distributed above", the Court noted.
The Court noted that there was no provision or any other indication in the Manual duly approved by the Executive Council for preparing such a merit list based upon the marks awarded under different heads.
The Court held that the Board of Examiners on their own changed the criteria and made it purely merit-based.
On the decision made by the Division Bench, the Supreme Court remarked that "What we notice is that, the Division Bench approved the reasoning of the learned Single Judge."
"However, the Division Bench fell in error in applying the principle of estoppel that the appellants having appeared in the interview and being unsuccessful proceeded to challenge the same and on that ground alone, allowed the appeals, setaside the judgment of the learned Single Judge. The Division Bench having approved the reasoning of the learned Single Judge, ought not to have interfered in the judgment of the learned Single Judge on a technical plea. The Division Bench ought to have considered that the appellants were ClassIV employees working from 1977 onwards and expecting from them to have raised serious objection or protest at the stage of interview and understanding the principles of changing the Rules of the game, was too farfetched, unreasonable and unwarranted," the court observed.
The Court also noted that the case laws relied upon by the Division Bench had no application in the facts of the present case as none of those judgments laid down that principle of estoppel would be above law. And to that end opined that "It is settled principle that principle of estoppel cannot override the law. The manual duly approved by the Executive Council will prevail over any such principle of estoppel or acquiescence".
Accordingly, the Court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the Division Bench while restoring the judgment of the Single Judge.