District Judge Appointment 2022: SC directs Jharkhand HC to make recommendation for successful candidates for filing up subsisting vacancies without applying Full Court Resolution requiring each candidate to get 50% aggregate marks
Justices Aniruddha Bose & Sanjay Kumar [01-02-2024]
[WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 753/2023]
New Delhi, February 12, 2024: While addressing the legality of the selection process of District Judge Cadre in the State of Jharkhand initiated in the year 2022, the Supreme Court has quashed the Full Court Resolution of the Jharkhand High Court dated March 23, 2023 by which it was decided that only those candidates who have secured at least 50% marks in aggregate shall be qualified for appointment to the post of District Judge.
The vacancies specified in the advertisement itself were twenty-two. Appointment procedure to the said posts was guided by the Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service (Recruitment, Appointment and Conditions of Service) Rules, 2001. In the year 2017, the Jharkhand Superior Judicial Service (Recruitment, Appointment and Conditions of Service) Regulation. On the basis of cut-off marks specified in the advertisement as also in the 2001 Rules, select list of sixty-six persons was published.
The High Court on its administrative side, however, recommended only 13 candidates for appointment though the vacancies declared were 22. A candidate irrespective of the marks obtained by him in the main examination was required to get at least 20 marks out of the aggregate 40 in the viva-voce test. 9 candidates who had been left out from being recommended for appointment, had found place in the select list in terms of Rule 21 of the 2001 Rules.
In another Writ Petition, altogether seven petitioners had joined in questioning the exclusion of the 9 candidates by the Full Court Resolution. The said resolution introduced securing 50 per cent marks in aggregate (combination of marks obtained in main examination and viva-voce) as the qualifying criteria for being recommended to the said posts. There were two impleadment applications taken out by ‘Purnendu Sharan’ and taken out by ‘Ashutosh Kumar Pandey’, both of them being aggrieved by the procedure adopted by the Full Court. Another set of 5 candidates had filed the second writ petition seeking substantially the same relief.
The petitioners’ main case rested on two planks. First one was that the decision of the Full Court on the administrative side went contrary to the Recruitment Rules, Regulations and the Terms contained in the advertisement. The second plank of the submissions was that in any event, after the performance of each of the candidate was known and the marks obtained by them in the two forms of the examination were disclosed, it was impermissible for the High Court Administration to introduce fresh cut-off marks.
Referring to Rule 18 of the 2001 Rules, the Division Bench of Justice Aniruddha Bose & Justice Sanjay Kumar opined that the task of setting cut-off marks has been vested in the High Court but this has to be done before the start of the examination. The situation herein was one in which the High Court administration was seeking to deviate from the Rules guiding the selection process itself. “We have considered the High Court’s reasoning for such deviation, but such departure from Statutory Rules is impermissible. We accept the High Court administration’s argument that a candidate being on the select list acquired no vested legal right for being appointed to the post in question. But if precluding a candidate from appointment is in violation of the recruitment rules without there being a finding on such candidate’s unsuitability, such an action would fail the Article 14 test and shall be held to be arbitrary”, the Bench held while also adding, “The reason behind the Full Court Resolution is that better candidates ought to be found. That is different from a candidate excluded from the appointment process being found to be unsuitable.”
Laying stress on the “no change in the rule midway” dictum, the Bench further held that the stipulations contained in Rule 21 for making the select list were breached by the High Court administration in adopting the impugned resolution. In the opinion of the Bench, the if High Court was permitted to alter the selection criteria after the performance of individual candidates was assessed, that would constitute alteration of the laid down Rules.
Relying upon the decision in K.Manjusree -vs- State of Andhra Pradesh and Anr. [LQ/SC/2008/377], the Bench opined that Rule 14 empowers the High Court administration in specific cases to reassess the suitability and eligibility of a candidate in a special situation by calling for additional documents. The High Court administration cannot take aid of this Rule to take a blanket decision for making departure from the selection criteria specified in the 2001 Rules. The content of Rule 14 has the tenor of a verification process of an individual candidate in assessing the suitability or eligibility.
Thus, the Bench allowed both the writ petitions by directing the High Court to make recommendation for those candidates who have been successful as per the merit or select list, for filing up the subsisting notified vacancies without applying the Full Court Resolution that requires each candidate to get 50 per cent aggregate marks.
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