Split decision over validity of fixation of minimum bench mark for viva-voce for Manipur Judicial Services Grade-I post

Supreme Court: The Bench of R. Banumathi and Shiva Kirti Singh, JJ gave split decision in the writ of certiorari filed by the petitioner seeking the quashment of the Notification dated 16th February, 2015 issued by the High Court of Manipur, whereby the petitioner was declared unsuccessful in viva-voce conducted by the High Court of Manipur for appointment to the post of District Judge (Entry Level) in Manipur Judicial Services Grade-I. The matter will be placed before a larger Bench for final adjudication.

The Impugned Notification notified that “no one shall be declared pass and selected for appointment unless he secures minimum 40% from the interview”. The petitioner, however, was not able to secure 40% in the interview and hence, argued that the marks obtained in the viva-voce should be merely added to the marks obtained in the written examination to finalize the merit list and it was not permissible to have fixed a minimum bench mark for the viva-voce as it amounts to change in the criteria of selection in the midst of the selection process.

Banumathi, J rejected the said contention and said that under the MJS Rules a scheme of converting the numerical marks of each question into an appropriate grade, according to the formula given in the table and re-converting into grades, is stipulated. In the table, the percentage of marks and Grade prescribe that marks below 40% is Grade ‘F’ which means ‘Fail’. Keeping in view the Rules and the table converting numerical marks into Grades and the final Select List that is prepared by adding cumulative grade value obtained in the written examination and the interview/viva-voce, fixing 40% for interview/viva-voce out of total marks of 50 is in consonance with MJS Rules and it will not amount to change in the criteria of selection in the midst of selection process. The object of conducting interview/viva-voce examination has been rightly stated in the Rules to assess suitability of the candidate by judging the mental alertness, knowledge of law, clear and original exposition, intellectual depth and the like. Hence, having regard to the seniority of the post which is District Judge  (Entry Level), the High Court cannot be faulted with for exercising its residuary right reserved in its favour by prescribing cut-off marks for the interview. Also, the petitioner participated in the selection process and only because in the final result the petitioner being unsuccessful, he cannot turn around and contend that the criteria for selection was changed.

Shiva Kirti Singh, J, on the other hand, said that the Rules and the instructions clearly demonstrate that there was no cut-off mark or pass mark for the viva voce examination in the past. Not providing any pass mark for the viva voce while so providing for the written examination clearly indicates that the Rules deliberately chose not to prescribe any cut-off for the viva voce. The statutory rules did prescribe a particular mode of selection which did not require any pass mark for the viva voce examination and it had to be given strict adherence accordingly, at least till the ongoing recruitment process got concluded. Since the procedure was already prescribed by the Rules, in the present case there was clear impediment in law in the way of the High Court in proceeding to lay down minimum pass mark for the viva voce test which was meant only for the petitioner as he was the lone candidate successful in the written examination. Although no case of bias has been pleaded, the impugned action would validly attract the criticism of malice in law. Also, the petitioner being the lone candidate having passed in the written examination, it matters little whether minimum marks for interview were introduced before or after calling him for interview. [Salam Samarjeet Singh v. High Court of Manipur at Imphal, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1120, decided on 07.10.2016]

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