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This article is written by Bhavyika Jain, a student at Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article deals with the necessity of fairness in public service examination in light of the case of Sachin Kumar vs. Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board.


The case Sachin Kumar vs. Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board (2021) deals with the cancellation of the examinations of Tier-I and Tier-II which were held in 2009 by the Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board by the Delhi High Court for the recruitment of head clerk. The ruling of the Central Administrative Tribunal was affirmed resulting in the cancellation of the examinations.

Facts of the case

The Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board had published an advertisement on the 26th December 2009, inviting applications for various posts including the post of head clerk/ Grade-II (Delhi Administrative Selection Services) for filling 231 vacancies in the Services Department- II, Government of N.C.T of Delhi. Out of 62,056 applications received 61,179 applications were found to be eligible. The scheme of the examination comprised of:

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  1. Tier I examination for a duration of 2.5 hours comprising 200 marks, which is conducted as a preliminary evaluation of candidates for the main examination.
  2. The shortlisted candidates were eligible for the Tier- II descriptive examination of 200 marks for 2.5 hours. 

The examination was conducted after a period of almost 5 years on 29th June 2014. More than half of the candidates were from 22 pin codes of Delhi out of the total 609 pin codes.

Various complaints were received by the Delhi Subordinate Service Selection Board regarding serious irregularities, including: 

  1. Leakage of question papers, 
  2. Mass cheating,
  3. Allotment of common examination centers, and 
  4. Rooms to family members and impersonation of members, in the conduct of the Tier-I examination. 

However, the results were declared on 21st October 2014. The shortlisted 2415 candidates appeared for the Tier-II examination on 29th March 2015. The results of the main examination were released on 15th July 2015.

Several complaints between 30 July 2015 and 1st February 2016 regarding alleged irregularities in the conduct of both Tier I and Tier II examinations resulted in the constitution of a Committee by the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi. The Committee comprising the Director (vigilance) and District Magistrate (East) enquired into the complaints regarding the irregularities in the Tier- I and Tier- II examinations.

The Committee’s report on 10th September 2015 and 18th September 2015 opined that the allegations of mass cheating and impersonation during the conduct of the examinations were credible. The Committee recommended cancellation of the examination at the stage of declaring the Tier-I result and referred the entire matter to the Economic Offences Wing/Crime Branch of Delhi Police for a thorough investigation. Following the recommendations, the Deputy Chief Minister via a notification on 15 March 2016 cancelled the selection process.

Aggrieved by the failure of the DSSSB, three candidates filed an application before the Central Administrative Tribunal contending that allegations regarding the irregularities were made by unsuccessful candidates who were scheming to get another chance to write the examination. The Tribunal issued a directive to set aside the cancellation order and continue with the appointment process of successful candidates after a thorough investigation by the Anti- Corruption Bureau (ACB).

Appeals were filed by the DSSSB and the Government of Delhi under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution before the High Court of Delhi along with intervention petitions by candidates who had not initially participated in the tribunal proceedings. The candidates claimed that they had been successful in clearing the selection process and would be adversely affected if the High Court of Delhi upheld the cancellation of the examination.

After the High Court ratified the decision of the Tribunal, the petitioners approached the Supreme Court. Special leave petitions under Article 136 of the Constitution were filed by people who had neither participated in the Tribunal nor in the High Court proceedings.

Issues raised 

Following issues were raised before the Supreme Court:

  1. Whether the High Court’s ruling was correct?
  2. Is it possible to allow the DSSSB and the Delhi Government to file appeals?
  3. Whether the examination cancellation notice can be upheld?

Relevant legal provisions

  • Article 14 of the Constitution talks about equality before the law and equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. 
  • Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, sex, place of birth, religion, etc.
  • Article 16 of the Constitution mandates equality of opportunities in matters of public employment.
  • Article 136 deals with the mechanism of special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court of India.
  • Article 226 of the Constitution provides writ issuing powers to the high courts of the country.

Arguments raised by the parties 

Arguments raised by the plaintiff

The counsel for the applicants argued that the directive of the Tribunal to prohibit the DSSSB from cancelling the examination process was legitimate and fair. It was contended that six successful candidates who had approached the Tribunal and the High Court should not be made to appear for the Tier- II examinations once the cancellation order of the results has been overruled. It was argued that the DSSSB in its own recommendation had mentioned that there was no systematic flaw or irregularity in the selection process. A fair and reasonable process of selection to posts of public employment is a fundamental requirement under Article 16(1) and Article 14 of the Constitution. The applicants urged the Court to ensure that the benefit of the order setting aside the cancellation of the selection process be extended to all candidates who had not approached the Tribunal initially. Thus, in order to create parity, the recruitment process must be continued for all candidates who have been found to be free of committing any wrongdoing.

Arguments raised by the defendant

The Additional Solicitor General of India appearing on behalf of the DSSSB contended that the entire selection process was rigged. The occurrence of serious irregularities and fraud in the conduct of the examinations makes it difficult to ascertain the credibility of the marks obtained by the candidates. Since there were no feasible solutions to this conundrum, the cancellation of the entire process was the only viable option. The counsel for the petitioners argued that the grant of relief by the Tribunal was unreasonable. The Tribunal and the High Court of Delhi had failed to pay heed to the deficiencies noticed in the selection process.


While deliberating the nature of the present case, the Court opined that the irregularities in the present case were not isolated individual acts of malpractice or usage of unfair means but systemic irregularities that raise serious questions regarding the legitimacy of the entire selection process. The Court stressed that the issue was not seeking the identification of the tainted candidates but the substantiality of the evidence in support of malpractices found by the Committee. A fair and reasonable selection process is a fundamental requirement under Article 14 and Article 16(1) of the Indian Constitution. Hence, where it is possible to segregate the untainted from the tainted, an effort must be made to make sure that no unfair imposition of wrong-doing is made against the innocent. Article 14 would be violated if the innocent are treated like the wrong-doers while cancelling the entire selection process.  Hence subject to judicial supervision, the decisions of the recruitment body must be upheld to ensure that such decisions are in accordance with the law and preserve the sanctity of the process of selection.

The Supreme Court further criticized the delay of almost five years in the conduct of the examination. The main reason behind the small proportion of candidates appearing for the examination in comparison with the number of applications made was due to the issuance of admit cards in the electronic form without any notification of such measures in the examination advertisement. Since the admit cards were supposed to be delivered by post and the candidates cannot be expected to keep updates of the examination process over such a long time, the sudden decision to issue admit cards electronically instead of sending them by post creates a system of major inequality. Furthermore, the majority of the candidates who appeared for the examination belonged to a particular area of Delhi. The whole marks list was found to be dominated by a particular section of the society. These glaring irregularities were due to the administrative failure of the DSSSB. The absence of randomization resulted in family members and close relatives being seated in the same examination room. Allegations of impersonation and leakage of question papers were found to be credible.

In light of these circumstances, the Court upheld the notification for cancellation of the examinations. The DSSSB was ordered to take adequate measures to ensure that there is no recurrence of such instances that erode the credibility and public faith in the recruitment process. The authorities were directed to undertake a comprehensive exercise to revise the safeguards and procedures of the selection process within a period of two months. The Court also mandated an age relaxation to be provided to candidates who will appear for the new examination.

Ratio decidendi

While adjudicating on the special leave petitions under Article 136, the Supreme Court relied on its decisions taken with respect to the grounds on which examinations processes may be cancelled. The Court recognized that in some cases the authority responsible for conducting the examination or selection process may cancel the entire process due to a systematic failure that taints the entire process. In light of such circumstances, it is extremely difficult to rely on a fact-finding investigation of individual malpractices or the usage of unfair means. The difficulty of separating the tainted from the untainted candidates and denial of equal access of opportunities to every candidate erodes the credibility of the examination and necessitates a cancellation. The Court also opined that in some cases the participants are themselves responsible for the irregularities in the selection process. It is prudent to exclude the wrongdoers from the others and allow the selection process to be continued for the untainted successful candidates.

The Apex Court relied on its decision in Bihar School Examination Board v Subhas Chandra Sinha & Ors (1970), where a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had opined the cancellation of examination without giving every candidate a chance to represent themselves due to the massive scale of irregularities in the conduct of the annually secondary school examination held at a particular center in a district of Bihar. It was unviable to hold a detailed inquiry and examine individual cases to ascertain the untainted ones. This infeasibility check was also used in the case of Madhyamic Shiksha Mandal, MP vs Abhilash Shiksha Prasar Samiti (1997) In the case of Kumari Anamica Mishra vs UP Public Service Commission (1989), Allahabad, the Apex Court overruled the examination authority’s decision to cancel the recruitment to the posts in the educational services of the State of Uttar Pradesh. It was held that since there were no systemic failures in the written test and an issue arose only with respect to the interview of successful candidates, the same can be remedied by just vitiating the initial interview process and conducting a fresh round of interviews of all eligible candidates. The small scale of mistakes with regard to the input of data in a database management system could be remedied without cancelling the entire process. A similar stance was taken in the case of Union of India v Rajesh P U Puthuvalinkathu (2003)


The dispute hinges on whether or not the cancellation of the examinations was a justified action. The current case rests on a review of the Tribunal’s and the High Court’s findings for their legality. The verdict of the aforementioned bodies was upheld by the Supreme Court. The necessity that a public entity act in a fair and reasonable manner drives the selection process. The choices of the recruiting body are thus susceptible to judicial review, subject to the well-established concept that the recruiting authority must have some discretion to make decisions in line with the law that is best suited to maintain the purity of the process.



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