Civil Services Exams : COVID No Ground To Relax Condition To Submit Degree Certificate On Specified Date, UPSC Tells Supreme Court

Conditions of eligibility cannot be relaxed for certain individuals on different grounds”, said the Union Public Service Commission in the Supreme Court responding to pleas filed by civil services aspirants whose candidatures were cancelled due to non-submission of educational qualification proof on the specified date.

“Conditions of eligibility cannot be relaxed for certain individuals on different grounds”, said the Union Public Service Commission in the Supreme Court responding to pleas filed by civil services aspirants whose candidatures were cancelled due to non-submission of educational qualification proof on the specified date.

The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has submitted in its Counter-Affidavit that conditions of eligibility could not be relaxed for certain individuals on different grounds as it would create a different class contrary to Article 14 and 16.

The Counter-Affidavit was filed in response to two petitions filed by few civil services aspirants whose candidatures were cancelled on the ground that they had not submitted requisite proof of educational qualification under Rule 7 and Rule 11 of the Civil Services Examination Rules, 2020.
Today, a Bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar adjourned the hearing of the matter to next week, i.e. 13th July, along with another petition on a similar issue.

In the hearing, Advocate Naresh Kaushik, appearing for UPSC, submitted to the Court that a Counter-Affidavit had been filed. However, the Bench did not have the same on record.

Advocate Tanya Shree, appearing for the Petitioners, informed the Court that she did not wish to file a Reply to the same.

Accordingly, the Bench adjourned the matter to next week. UPSC’s Counter-Affidavit
The Counter-Affidavit which has been filed by UPSC submits that the examination conducted by them is held in accordance with the Rules framed and notified by the Government of India in the Department of Personnel and Training. It is divided into a three phase process, i.e. Preliminary Exam, Main Exam and Personality Test.

Furthermore, it is a “highly competitive exam, wherein inclusion of one candidate would automatically result in the exclusion of another candidate and as such, the eligibility conditions as per, the instructions in the Examination Rules/advertisement have to be enforced strictly without which the selection process cannot be completed”.

In wake of the competitiveness, it has been averred that the sanctity of the cut off constitutes the most crucial factor and is the core point of the entire process. Referring to decisions such as Ashok Kumar Sonkar v. Union of India, the Counter submits that the possession of educational qualification at a particular date has to be specified by UPSC in order to complete selection process.

It has also been stated that delay of results is not a novel situation, and rejections on the basis of lack of possession of certificate have taken place before. In the instant case, due to the pandemic, candidates were given an additional three and a half months’ time to obtain their ‘proof of passing’ the degree. The UPSC states that under normal circumstances, the candidates would have got nearly 3.5 months between the closing date of the preliminary exams and the date for filling up DAF-I for the mains. However, as the exams got delayed due to COVID, the candidates got nearly 8 months in between the said dates.

Furthermore, it is only Note II of Rule 7 of the Civil Services Examination Rules 2020 which empowers UPSC to provide relaxation in Educational Qualification in exceptional cases, only when the candidate has passed the examination by any other institution of a similar standard. This Rule has not been exercised yet.

“In the instant case of these 03 candidates, it is emphasised that they did not possess any such qualification, which could substantiate their claim for the Examination as the eligible candidates. In fact, they were 10+2 passed candidates only on the prescribed date as they were still students of the graduation level. Hence, they cannot be considered possessing or have passed such examination the standard of which could justify their admission to CSE 2020”.

The Commission affirms that the said Rule 7 does not enable it to grant relaxation to the petitioners and therefore its action was in accordance with the CSE Rules.
In light of the above, UPSC has categorically submitted that its decision to cancel the candidature does not suffer from any error of law, and the Writ Petition deserves to be dismissed. It is also asserted that despite the pandemic situation, as many as 115 out of 140 similarly situated candidates submitted their educational proof along with DAF-1. “Those candidates who could not submit valid proof of their passing regarding their educational qualifications till the closing date of DAF-I despite the availability of 8 months (including the additional 3.5 months) were not eligible for the CSE 2020, in terms of the CSE Rules were framed and notified by the Government”, the Counter says.
The plea, filed through Advocate Tanya Shree, submits that the cancellation of the candidature via letter dated March 12, 2021, is “arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminates amongst the candidates similarly situated and therefore is in violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950”. As per facts in one case, as a result of the national lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic, the final examination of the Petitioner’s B.Tech course got delayed. The exam was conducted in the end of September 2020 and results were declared after November 2020. ITo appear for the UPSC Preliminary Exams in October 2020, the petitioner gave an undertaking that she would submit the documents as soon as results are declared. The petitioner was required to submit the proof of qualifying examination by November 11, 2020. Since the results of her university were not announced by that time, the Petitioner made a request to the UPSC to allow her to take the Mains exams on an undertaking. Her university results came on November 28, 2020 and she was declared pass. She was later issued a provisional certificate by the University. In January 2021, she appeared in the Mains exam. However, the plea submits, that after appearing for Civil Services Mains Examination, she received a letter which cancelled her candidature on the ground that she had not submitted proof of requisite educational qualification. “It is noteworthy that the Petitioner had given an undertaking to the Respondent No. 1 that she will submit proof of qualifying examination as soon as results are published. Consequently, she has provided Respondent No. 1 with her requisite degree certificates but the same have not been considered by Respondent No.1″. The plea goes on to contend that an original copy of the documents is required only when candidates appear for the Personality Test. Therefore, exclusion of the Petitioner without taking into consideration the fact that the result was declared after November 2020″on account of unprecedented situation arising out of COVID-19, reeks of unreasonableness and is manifestly arbitrary, which results in denial of equal opportunity to the Petitioner in matters of public employment”. It is also contended that principle of estoppel would apply in the matter as the petitioner had been issued an admit card on the basis of the undertaking, and therefore, she could not be denied the right to be considered for the Personality Test. In light of the above, the plea states that cancellation of the candidature would render the whole year of the petitioner a waste, due to no fault of hers, and denying her the right to be considered for Personality Test would amount to grave in justice. The results of Mains Exams of petitioners are withheld. (Cases : Deepak Yadav and others vs UPSC and others, Vaidehi Gupta vs UPSC and others).

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