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Answer key is subject to judicial review only when it is “demonstrably wrong”: Delhi HC

There is always a presumption of correctness regarding the answer key of an exam held and it may be subject to judicial review only when it is “demonstrably wrong”. Therefore, it must be such as no reasonable body of men well-versed in the particular subject would regard it as correct. This remarkable judgement was passed by the division bench of the Delhi High Court, consisting of Justice Manmohan and Justice Sanjeev Narula in the matter of Shivnath Tripathi v The Registrar General High Court of Delhi & Anr., [W.P. (C) 7346/2020].

The petitioner in the present writ petition alleged that a few questions in the Delhi Higher Judiciary Service Preliminary Examination held in the month of February 2020. The questions pertained to the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1998, Indian Succession Act, 1925, Copyright Act and a question pertaining to IPC. The petitioner further alleged that the lack of response from the respondent’s by way of processing the petitioner’s answer key has caused him injustice. Further, the petitioner also alleged that the respondent had no reason for not modifying or deleting the answers provided by them. The court ordered the petitioner to file the present writ petition before the Examination-cum-Judicial Education and Training Programme Committee of Hon’ble Judges.

The division bench of the Delhi High Court opined that, “This Court is of the view that the petitioner has sought to reap the benefit of the observations of this Court in Sumit Kumar vs High Court of Delhi, [2016 SCC OnLine Del 2818] without actually following the standard/test of judicial review discussed there under. The Division Bench of this Court in the aforesaid judgment, after discussing several judgments of the Supreme Court on the same matter, held that a candidate could not be penalised for answers at variance with the key only if the answer key was proven to be incorrect beyond doubt. However, it is relevant to note that according to the said judgment, an answer key cannot be disregarded as being incorrect merely on a doubt. The Court had reiterated the settled law that there is always a presumption of correctness regarding the answer key and it may be subject to judicial review only when it is “demonstrably wrong” i.e. it must be such as no reasonable body of men well-versed in the particular subject would regard it as correct. In the present case, the Examination-cum-Judicial Education and Training Programme Committee has considered the queries raised by the petitioner at length and given detailed reasons as to why the impugned answer key is the single, objective, correct answer of the four options provided in the exam. In our view, there is no other answer that can possibly be “correct”.

This Court is also in complete agreement with the opinion and reasons given by the Committee in its minutes of meeting dated 19th November, 2020. The Committee has rightly concluded that the impugned questions have been correctly framed and answer keys provided thereto are also correct. The petitioner herein has based his arguments on mere conjectures and has failed to elucidate even a single valid ground to challenge the reasoning given by the Committee. Therefore, the petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the impugned questions and answer keys are inherently incorrect or manifest injustice has occurred in the present case.”

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