Civil service: SC takes note of Centre's no to granting age relaxation

·5-min read

New Delhi, Feb 9 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday took note of Centre's stand that it was against granting one-time relaxation on age limit to UPSC civil service aspirants including those who exhausted their last attempt in 2020 exam amid COVID-19 and asked a searching question on permitting lateral entry into bureaucracy from private sector.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar, which reserved its verdict on a plea seeking one more chance in UPSC's civil services exam to those aspirants who could not appear in their last attempt in 2020 due to the pandemic, also asked the Union Public Service Commission to file a note on the lateral entry into the bureaucracy from the private sector.

“You have a policy now to take candidates from private service to the joint secretary level. There are relaxations also...For lateral entry, age limit is 45 years and no attempt bar,” observed the bench which also comprised justices Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi in the hearing conducted through video conferencing.

The counsel for UPSC told the bench that there were age restrictions even for the lateral entry and he would file a note on it.

The bench said the government is agreeable to give the concession of one extra attempt to those who exhausted their last attempt in 2020, but it is not willing to relax the age limit from 32 to 33 years.

“We will examine all this. Judgement reserved,” the bench said.

The bench noted the submissions of Additional Solicitor General S V Raju, appearing for the Centre, that pandemic hit all candidates equally and if an extra chance is granted only to those who exhausted their last sixth attempt then others, who lost their first or second chance, may say that injustice has been done to them. “Either, we dismiss the petition or we accommodate all,” the bench observed. The ASG said in an examination of this nature, the issue of grant relaxation in age or attempt fell under the domain of executive and it has been held in judgements that the judiciary would not interfere unless the policy is “atrocious and against the fundamental rights”.

'What should be the syllabi, age or number of attempts are matters of governmental policy. Whether to grant relaxation for age or attempt is also a matter of policy. Interference can happen if the decision is non-informed, arbitrary or capricious. Our submission is that the writ petitions are completely premature', the law officer said.

Raju said the candidates knew the rules of the exam and had consented to them before appearing and later cannot “turn around” and say that an extra chance be given to them.

He said no order should be passed without hearing the candidates appearing for the 2021 exams as they would be the ones who will have to face competition from those who had been given an extra attempt.

The ASG said it was against granting a one-time relaxation on age limit to UPSC civil service aspirants, including those who had exhausted their last attempt in the 2020 exam amid the pandemic.

He said initially the government was not willing to concede the extra chance and later it was given as a conditional offer at the suggestion of the bench.

“This is not the exam where you prepare at the last minute. People prepare for years together,” Raju told the bench, adding, “My first offer (of granting extra chance to those who exhausted their last chance in 2020 and are not age-barred) remains”.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for an intervenor, said the candidates were unable to put in their best due to the pandemic and they were entitled to another chance.

“In past also rules have been changed and an extra chance was given to the candidates,” he argued.

The Centre had on February 5 told the apex court that it was agreeable to give an extra chance as a one-time relaxation to those civil service aspirants, who had appeared in their last attempt in the 2020 exam and are otherwise not age-barred.

It, however, had said that no relaxation shall be granted for 2021 exam to those candidates who have not exhausted their permissible number of attempts or to those who are otherwise age-barred from appearing in 2021 exam as per the prescribed age limits of different categories, or to any other candidate for any other reason whatsoever.

The counsel appearing for the petitioners had Monday argued that there should be one-time relaxation on age limit for the aspirants.

On February 5, the Centre had filed a note in the apex court which said, “Relaxation, only to the extent of providing one extra attempt for Civil Service Examination (CSE), specifically limited to CSE-2021, may be granted to only those candidates who appeared for CSE-2020 as their last permissible attempt and are otherwise not age-barred from appearing in CSE-2021.” “This relaxation for the candidates and to the extent as prescribed above, shall be a one-time relaxation only and shall apply only for appearing in CSE-2021 and shall not be treated as a precedent,” it had said.

“As per the suggestion of this court, the Union of India is agreeable for the following ex-gratia, one-time, restricted relaxation to be granted to the prospective candidates, subject to the same being part of a consent order, disposing off the petition,” the note had said.

On February 1, the Centre had said it cannot grant an extra chance to the aspirants who could not appear or prepare well for their last attempt in the civil service exam in 2020 due to the pandemic, while reiterating that it would amount to extending “differential treatment” to similarly placed candidates.PTI SJK ABA RKS RKS