Supreme Court pulls up Centre for ‘routine affidavit’ on UPSC exams

Justice A.M. Khanwilkar.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Supreme Court on Thursday said an affidavit filed by the government did not specify the level of authority at which the decision was taken to not give UPSC aspirants, including “last-attempters” who claimed their preparations for the October 4 prelims were severely restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, another chance to take the elite civil services exams.

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar also noted that the affidavit seemed to be a “routine” one filed by an Under Secretary.

The court said the decision should have been taken at the highest level.

“It is a policy decision and a one-time decision. This is a routine affidavit. Is this the way to do this?” the Bench asked Additional Solicitor-General S.V. Raju.

Justice Khanwilkar said the court would have preferred an affidavit from a higher official. Mr. Raju agreed to file another affidavit.

The court scheduled the case for hearing on January 29.

Senior advocate C.U. Singh, for the aspirants, said there was a lack of clarity on the issue from the government.

A 13-page affidavit filed by an Under Secretary with the Department of Personnel and Training recently said it was “curious to note that the petitioners, who participated in the examination with open eyes, only approached the Supreme Court after the results of the examination were declared”.

“Be that as it may, it is submitted the UPSC made all the necessary arrangements for the conduct of CS (Preliminary) Examination-2020 on October 4 last year, in a safe and efficient manner adhering to all the COVID-19 safety protocols,” the government had said.

‘Differential treatment’

Giving an additional attempt or relaxation in age for some candidates would amount to extending differential treatment. It would lead to an “un-levelling of the playing field”, the affidavit had said.

“Providing an extra attempt could further have a cascading effect by creating a ground for challenge on the part of those candidates who have already appeared for the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination-2020. It is submitted that other non-final-attempt candidates, who undertook the examination this year without any murmur of discontent, would be disadvantageously placed in future examinations,” the government had said.

A total of 4,86,952 candidates had appeared in the CS (Preliminary) Examination-2020 on October 4.

The UPSC had allowed candidates to change their centres to facilitate candidates who had moved to a different location owing to the pandemic. The contention that the pandemic had added to the candidates’ stress and hampered their preparations held no ground as the exam had already been postponed from May to October, giving students more time to prepare, the Centre had submitted.

“Furthermore, these conditions would have affected every candidate at the examination in a similar way, thus still maintaining a balance amongst all the candidates,” the affidavit said.

The government also pointed out that exam was held in the fifth phase of ‘Unlock.’ Most of the restrictions had been removed by then.

On January 22, the government, for the first time, told the court that it was “not agreeable” to give aspirants another crack at the exams for the elite civil services. The court had asked the government to make its stand clear in an affidavit by January 25.

The January 22 revelation from the government had come after weeks of telling the court that a decision to grant another chance for UPSC aspirants was under “active consideration”.

The case is based on a petition filed by several aspirants, represented by advocate Anushree Prashit Kapadia, who had appeared in the UPSC prelims on October 4.

They had sought another shot at the exams in view of “innumerable, inevitable circumstances suffered by them due to COVID-19 pandemic, which prevailed in the entire country during the crucial period of their preparation and even on the date of examination”.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 6:29:15 AM |

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