Candidates Holding ‘Dual Degrees’ Can’t Be Arbitrarily Rejected While Making Appointments To Public Office: Orissa High Court

In Bhuban Mohan Behera v. State of Odisha & Anr. (W.P.(C) No. 3617 of 2022), the Orissa High Court ruled that a candidate’s appointment to a public position cannot be outright and arbitrarily rejected if he has “dual degrees.” A Single Judge Bench of Justice Sanjeeb Kumar Panigrahi ruled that in terms of appointment, the appointing committee’s guidelines must be observed, and  OPSC had not supplied guidance for dual-degree candidates and even if this is an exceptional case, rejecting the petitioner’s candidature is arbitrary.

Brief Facts Of The Case: Odisha Public Service Commission (OPSC) advertised for Assistant Professor positions at state public universities under the Higher Education Department. Clause 4 of such advertisements specified position qualifications. After seeing the ad, the petitioner applied on OPSC’s website. He holds an M.Sc. and Ph.D. from IIT, Bombay. His application was accepted and he was called for document verification based on his education and OPSC standards. Documents were verified. The petitioner submitted a single M.Sc. and Ph.D. certificate from the institute. The petition was accepted and the petitioner was invited for an interview, but his candidacy was denied without providing him a chance to clarify his educational qualifications. This writ petition challenges the same denial notice.

Judgement: The Court noted that other High Courts, notably the Madras High Court in The Secretary v. The State of Tamil Nadu [W.P.(MD) No. 12639 of 2016], had recognised the appointment of individuals with multiple degrees. It further held that to deal with the issue involved in the present case, very vital aspects in the interest of justice, rule of law, and the greater public interest must be considered when any particular process or selection or appointment has suffered from legal and procedural improprieties, deficiencies, irregularities, or illegalities.

Justice Panigrahi stated that the Supreme Court has often said that natural justice cannot be limited to a strict formula and that its application depends on the statute’s scheme and policy and the case’s circumstances. Given the paucity of laws regarding dual-degree applicants, the petitioner should have been given a hearing to clarify his position on mark segregation. The petition was allowed, he concluded. Further the court opined that the selection procedure has already ended, thus the clock cannot be turned back. The OPSC must clarify the significance of the problem so that many meritorious applicants in the same position as the petitioners can participate in the selection process. Thus, the writ petition was allowed.

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