Scope of judicial review for answer key reassessment is narrow: Jharkhand High Court

Refusing to interfere with the Jharkhand Public Service Commission’s decision on the disputed answers of the 2021 preliminary test, the Jharkhand High Court observed that,

“The mere fact that the experts were not chosen by the petitioner cannot be a reason to doubt the decision of the committee of experts in the matter.”

In a case seeking reconsideration of JPSC PT answer sheets, Judge Rajesh Shankar felt that if the plea is successful, it will result in an “endless exercise” leading to unnecessary litigation at the behest of dissatisfied candidates. The Court further noted,

“Thus, to finalize the appointment process, it is necessary to give due importance to the process adopted by the reviewing body and to avoid unnecessary disputes at the request of dissatisfied candidates. Even assuming that the revised model answers as pointed out by the petitioner are erroneous, then also for the above reasons, the request for reassessment of the answers by a committee of independent experts cannot be granted by this Court in the exercise of the power of judicial review in under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.

Fund

A motion in writ has been filed to rescind and void the provisional result published in November 2021 of the Preliminary Test of the Combined Civil Service Examination of Jharkhand, 2021 on the grounds of discrepancies in answering some questions.

The petition called for the constitution of an independent committee of qualified experts in the subject matter so that discrepancies could be placed for correction. Then post the results again.

Lawyer Rajesh Kumar, appearing for the Applicant, argued that against the threshold of 260 points for the unqualified category, the Applicant’s self-assessment based on the carbon copy of the OMR sheet, he was short 6 points, or only three correct answers. They also informed the Court that this is the applicant’s last attempt at said examination.

Lawyer Mohan Kumar Dubey, representing JPSC, argued that the committee referred it to an expert panel for review after receiving objections from applicants. Later corrections were made to the patch template. She added that full marks were awarded to all candidates for incorrect answers.

The petitioner, belonging to the non-reserved category, obtained 254 points, while the threshold is 260, and he is therefore not declared to have passed the PT exam.

JPSC also disputed the maintainability of the prayers made, arguing that subject matter experts corrected the model answers. Based on the corrected answers of the model, the candidates’ OMR sheets were processed by OMR Scanning Machine, and after that, the result was prepared and released. After the publication of the PT result, candidates were informed of the possibility of submitting online application forms for the main examination. As the deadline for submitting the online application form for the main exam has already passed, they submitted.

Findings of the Court

After reviewing the report in a series of judgments relied upon by the applicant and the respondent, the Court observed,

“The scope of judicial review under Section 226 of the Constitution of India in matters concerning the reassessment of responses on the application of candidates, especially in public recruitment, is quite narrow.”

She also felt that the Court must be very slow to intervene in the opinion of the expert in academic matters. Any advice on the matter by the Court must maintain internal checks and balances between the reviewing body and the candidates. He noted,

“The Court should not sit on appeal on expert opinion as it may lack expertise in academic matters. Undoubtedly, in exceptional cases, the Court may authorize a reassessment to correct a clerical error s ‘it is demonstrated very clearly without any inferential process of reasoning or by a process of rationalization.

He pointed to the exercise of self-imposed restraint in interfering with expert opinion since the candidates in their entirety would suffer as a result of such an error. The Court should presume the correctness of the answer key and, in the event of a dispute, the benefit of the doubt should go to the reviewing authority, he added.

He noted that by accepting the petitioner’s request, it is possible that the decision of a new committee of experts will not be favorable to the other candidates, which would lead to an endless exercise. He therefore concluded that if the Court begins to interfere with the key answers / model answers, published by JPSC or the reviewing body, no result can be finalized. Therefore, interference by the Court in such a case should be extremely rare.

Case Title: Shekhar Suman v. Jharkhand State

Quote: 2022 LiveLaw (Jha) 8

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