In setback to 10K UPSC civil service aspirants, SC dismisses plea for extra-chance

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New Delhi, Feb 24 (PTI) In a setback to over 10,000 UPSC civil service aspirants, the Supreme Court Wednesday dismissed a plea seeking an extra attempt for those who exhausted their last chance in the 2020 preliminary exam amid the COVID-19 pandemic or have got age barred from appearing in future tests.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi dismissed the petition filed by civil service aspirants and clarified that its decision would not restrict the Centre in exercising its discretion in future to deal with the difficulties as projected to the court.

“Consequently, the petition fails and is accordingly dismissed,” the bench said.

The top court said that it is not exercising its plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution as it would set down a “precedent” and also have “cascading effect” on examinations held in other streams during the pandemic.

The bench said: “The data furnished to this Court by the Commission (UPSC) clearly indicate that various selections have been held by the Commission for Central Services in the year 2020 during COVID-19 pandemic and...if this Court shows indulgence to few who had participated in the Examination 2020, it will set down a precedent and also have cascading effect on examinations in other streams, for which we are dissuaded to exercise plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution.” Justice Rastogi, who penned down a 40-page verdict on behalf of the bench, however rejected the Centre's submission that what is being claimed and prayed for by the petitioners under the guise of COVID-19 pandemic is nothing but a lame excuse in taking additional attempt to participate in the Civil Service Examination 2021.

The top court said merely because as a matter of policy, if the Centre has granted relaxation in the past for the reason that there was a change in the exam pattern/syllabus then 'no assistance can be claimed by the petitioners in seeking mandamus to the 1st respondent (Centre) to come out with a policy granting relaxation to the participants who had availed a final and last attempt or have crossed the upper age by appearing in the Examination 2020 as a matter of right”.

The Centre and the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) submitted that not only the petitioners or intervenors before this Court, but there are large number of candidates who had appeared in the various examinations last year during the COVID-19 pandemic and everyone must have faced some constraints/ impediments/inconvenience in one way or the other.

The bench said that it is the settled principle of law that policy decisions are open for judicial review by this Court for a very limited purpose and this Court can interfere in the realm of public policy if it is absolutely capricious, totally arbitrary or not informed of reasons.

“Judicial review of a policy decision and to issue mandamus to frame policy in a particular manner is absolutely different. It is within the realm of the executive to take a policy decision based on the prevailing circumstances for better administration and in meeting out the exigencies but at the same time, it is not within the domain of the Courts to legislate,” the bench said.

The top court said that it does find substance that concession either in attempt or age cannot be made under the scheme of February 12, last year notification of the rules for Civil Service Examination (CSE)-2020.

The bench noted the offer made by the Centre on February 5 that it was agreed in principle to give one time restricted relaxation, limited to CSE-2021, to only those candidates who appeared in 2020-examination as their last attempt and otherwise are not age barred from appearing in future examinations.

Noting that even the petitioners have themselves termed the Centre’s offer as discriminatory in character, the bench said, “We are also of the view that it is advisable to avoid this situation and any relaxation which is not permissible either in attempt or age under the scheme of Rules 2020 apart from being in contravention to the rules, it may be discriminatory and it is advisable not to exercise discretion in implementing what is being proposed by the 1st respondent”.

The top court noted that in the preliminary examination of CSE-2020 held on October 4 in 74 cities 4,86,952, candidates appeared while 10,56,835 had enrolled.

It noted that number of last attempt candidates who appeared in the examination but have not attained age bar for CSE-2021 are 3,863 and those who will reach age bar are 2,236 candidates, while candidates having last attempt in terms of age bar but did not appear in CSE-2020 are 4,237.

It said the combined effect of candidates who appeared and not appeared and who require relaxation for CSE-2021 are a total of 10,336 aspirants which is 0.97 per cent of total candidates, who enrolled for examination, 2020.

It also noted that general category candidates are permitted six attempts up to the age of 32; SC/ST candidates can unlimited attempts, while OBC aspirants are allowed to have nine attempts in UPSC civil service examination.

It noted that as per the rules, for a general candidate the minimum age for appearing in the UPSC civil service examination is 21 up to 32 years but the upper age limit is relaxable to the categories of vertical/horizontal reservations. PTI MNL SJK SA