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Public service – like any other, pre-supposes that the state employer has an element of latitude or choice on who should enter its service: The Supreme Court of India

Norms, based on principles, govern essential aspects such as qualification, experience, age, number of attempts permitted to a candidate, etc. These, broadly constitute eligibility conditions required of each candidate or applicant aspiring to enter public service. Judicial review, under the Constitution, is permissible to ensure that those norms are fair and reasonable, and applied fairly, in a non-discriminatory manner. However, suitability is entirely different; the autonomy or choice of the public employer, is greatest, as long as the process of decision making is neither illegal, unfair, or lacking in bona fides. The aforesaid has been established by the Supreme Court of India while adjudicating the case of Commissioner Of Police v. Raj Kumar [CIVIL APPEAL NO. 4960/ 2021] which was decided upon by a single judge bench comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat on 25th august 2021.

The facts of the case are as follows. An advertisement was issued in the year 2009, inviting applications from eligible candidates to fill up vacancies in the cadre of constable in the Delhi Police. It is not in dispute that the respondent candidates, in their applications, disclosed that criminal cases had been instituted against them – as well as the outcome of those cases. Except in SLP(C) 18396/2014 where the applicant Deepa Tomar was facing 2 trial, the criminal cases had ended in compromise. After due consideration of their candidature, and in terms of S.O. No.398/2010, the appellant referred their cases to a Standing Committee, to assess their suitability. In Deepa Tomar’s case, the consideration was deferred since she was facing trial in criminal proceedings where she was charged with committing the offence of kidnapping under Section 364 IPC. By various orders, which were impugned in separate proceedings by the candidates, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) allowed the applications of the candidates, upholding their pleas, and quashing the orders of the Screening Committees. All the orders of the CAT were impugned by the appellant before the High Court. They were dealt with and considered by the common impugned order, which rejected the appellant’s petitions, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. 3. The main argument by the candidates was that having regard to the terms of the applicable Standing Order as well as the decisions of this Court, the rejection of their candidature was unsustainable because of non-application of mind and further the orders were made in a mechanical manner. By the impugned order, the Division Bench allowed the writ petitions and quashed the rejection of the candidatures of the respondents.

The court perused the facts and arguments presented. It was of the opinion that “ The High Court’s approach, evident from its observations about the youth and age of the candidates, appears to hint at the general acceptability of behaviour which involves petty crime or misdemeanour. The impugned order indicates a broad view, that such misdemeanour should not be taken seriously, given the age of the youth and the rural setting. This court is of opinion that such generalizations, leading to condonation of the offender’s conduct, should not enter the judicial verdict and should be avoided. Certain types of offences, like molestation of women, or trespass and beating up, assault, causing hurt or grievous hurt, (with or without use of weapons), of victims, in rural settings, can also be indicative of caste or hierarchy-based behaviour. Each case is to be scrutinized by the concerned public employer, through its designated officials- more so, in the case of recruitment for the police force, who are under a duty to maintain order, and tackle lawlessness, since their ability to inspire public confidence is a bulwark to society’s security. For the foregoing reasons, this court hereby sets aside the common impugned judgment and the orders of the CAT, quashing the orders issued by the appellant, declining appointment to the respondent candidates. The appeals are accordingly allowed, without any order on costs.”

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