UPSC exams: SC dismisses writ plea seeking another chance to aspirants

File photo for representation.   | Photo Credit: G. Moorthy

The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a plea by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) aspirants, whose last attempt to crack the civil services exam was marred by COVID-19, for another chance in 2021.

The court said every candidate who took the exam last year suffered “one way or the other”.

The petitioners had argued about the “overwhelming” impact of coronavirus in the run-up to the civil services preliminary exam held on October 4, 2020. They said their access to study resources had shrunk with the closure of libraries and coaching centres during the lockdown. Some of them had fallen sick while others had cared for the sick during the pandemic months, leaving little or no time for study.

“What is being claimed and prayed for 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,” a Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said in the judgment.

‘Cascading effect’

Justice Ajay Rastogi, who authored the 40-page verdict for the Bench also comprising Justice Indu Malhotra, said any “indulgence” shown to a few would be against the scheme of the Civil Services Examination (CSE) Rules of 2020 and trigger a “cascading effect” on other public exams.


“If this court shows indulgence to a few who had participated in the 2020 exam, 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 noted.

The aspirants had argued that extra chances were given to candidates in 2011 and 2015 when the syllabus was changed. They said, if so, it was their “legitimate expectation” that the government would understand their travails during a pandemic and give them another opportunity in 2021. But the court refused to accept the contention.

Justice Rastogi reasoned that past relaxations, which were policy decisions done on the basis of the peculiar facts and circumstances of those times, cannot be made the basis and foundation for demanding an additional attempt as a “matter of right”.

Besides the candidates had had enough time to prepare. The first notification for the CSE 2020 was published on February 12 last year. The original date of the exam was May 31. It was deferred due to the pandemic. On June 5, the authorities decided to conduct the exam on October 4. Thus, the candidates got an additional five months, till October, to prepare. Moreover, the syllabus had not changed since 2015.

The court said that though the upper age limit was “relaxable” for reserved category candidates, there was no such leeway for general category aspirants.


“Candidates of general category who have attained the age of 32 years on August 1, 2020, as in the instant case, became ineligible to participate in the ensuing Civil Services Examination of 2021,” the judgment observed.

The court, however, asked the government to use its discretion and take steps to meet such contingencies in the future.

Appreciates lawyer’s efforts

On Wednesday, after pronouncing the judgment, Justice Rastogi appreciated the efforts made by advocate Anushree Prashit Kapadia, the aspirants’ lawyer.

“Ms. Kapadia, you argued well. You were very clear on the facts,” Justice Rastogi addressed the lawyer.

The case hearings in the past few months had seen a roller-coaster ride. The government’s resolve to refuse the petitioners’ request for another chance had thawed on the gentle prodding of the court. On February 5, the government said it was “agreeable” to give an “ex-gratia, one-time, restricted relaxation” to the last-attempters, provided they had not crossed the age barrier.

However, the candidates refused the offer as discriminatory. At this, the government declined refused to concede any further, leaving no choice for the court but to hear the case on its merits.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 10:55:52 AM |

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