This case is a civil appeal brought before the Supreme Court by the Commissioner of Police against the order of the Delhi High Court. The commissioner of Delhi Police was aggrieved by a judgment of the Delhi High Court, which directed the respondents to be considered for appointment to the post of constable in Delhi Police. Before the matter came to the Delhi High Court, the matter was also presented before the CAT (Central Administrative Tribunal), which found the respondents eligible for appointment to the post of constable in Delhi Police. However, the order did not seem appropriate to the Delhi Commissioner, and they approached the Delhi High Court against the order. The case in the Supreme Court was presented before two judges bench compromising of Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat.
As mentioned above, this civil appeal is against the Delhi High Court order allowing the respondent(s) to be considered to the constable post in Delhi Police. The issue was that four candidates, namely Raj Kumar, Shiv Singh, Deepa Tomar, and Prem Singh Choudhary, applied for the constable post in Delhi Police. After the candidates’ documentation (respondents), it was disclosed in their application that criminal cases had been instituted against them and the outcomes in those cases (except in the case of Deepa Tomar) was a compromise. The case of Ms. Deepa Tomar was that she was not only accused of committing an offence but she was also charged for the offence. She also stood the trial but was later on acquitted on the ground of insufficient evidence. While examining the case of the candidates through an order, the standing committee (also referred to as Screening Committee) declined their application to be considered for appointment. The order issued by the standing committee was challenged at the Central Administrative Tribunal. The Central Administrative Tribunal (Here referred to as CAT) considered their matter, upheld their plea and subsequently quashed the orders of the Screening Committees. The appellant challenged all the orders of the CAT in the Delhi High Court under Article 226 of the constitution of India. The Delhi High Court, under the writ jurisdiction (Article 226), rejected the appellant’s appeal and going for their last available option, the appellant knocked on the door of the Supreme Court.
The legal issues involved in this case were two folds. Coming down to the first issue involved in the case, whether the view of the standing committee disqualifying the candidature of the respondents holds value or not. The second issue that regulated the case was whether the CAT or the Delhi High Court has the right to adjudicate the order of the Standing committee regarding the qualification of a candidate.
Arguments from both sides
In any matter that is brought before the Court, there are two types of arguments produced before the Court, one from the side of the petitioner/appellant and the other from the side of the defendant/respondent. After hearing the contentions of both sides, the Court decides the matter in favour of one party. Similarly, in this case, the Court had arguments from both the side and upon those arguments and evidence the Court was to decide the case.
Arguments from Petitioner side
The arguments from the side of the petitioner were presented by the Additional Solicitor General (ASG), Ms Madhavi Divan, who contended that the judgement of the division bench of the High Court, which directed the respondents to be considered for appointment to the post of constable in Delhi Police, is erroneous. As presented by Ms Madhavi Divan, the reasoning behind this argument is that the orders of the Court cannot compel the authorities to select applicants whose conduct was not satisfactory in the opinion of the Screening Committee. This argument was supported by the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Commissioner of Police, New Delhi & Anr v Mehar Singh. In this case, the Supreme Court held that: “In the ultimate analysis, we are of the view that the opinion formed by the Screening Committee that both the respondents are not suitable for being appointed in the Delhi Police Force does not merit any interference. It is legally sustainable. The Tribunal and the High Court, in our view, erred in setting aside the order of cancellation of the respondents’ candidature”. The appellant also relied on the observation of the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the case of Avtar Singh v. UOI &Ors.
The second argument presented by the appellant was to defend the standing committee’s decision, where the appellant submitted that all the candidates whose candidature was rejected faced criminal proceedings, but the matter ended in a compromise. The order of the standing committee was based on the nature of the offences that the candidates were alleged to have committed and the outcome of the cases, which was justified.
Arguments from Respondent side
Mr Singhal, who was appearing on behalf of two candidates, namely Shiv Singh & Prem Singh Choudhary, contended that the standing committee did not examine his clients’ case properly and did not appreciate the entirety of facts. He further submitted that in the case of the respondent Shiv Singh, though in the first information report (FIR), allegations could have led to grave offences. The charges framed were not concerning these offences, and the matter ended with a compromise. Moving towards his second client, Prem Singh Choudhary, Mr Singhal submitted that the crime committed by his client Prem Singh Choudhary cannot be claimed as either grave or involved moral turpitude and in this case also the matter ended with a compromise and his client was not convicted for the offences. The argument was based on the observations of the High Court that: It cannot be said that the conduct involved moral turpitude in cases involving allegations of commission of offences under Section 323 IPC, especially where the offenders were youth from rural backgrounds, and that the Courts should be aware of the realities that brawls and fights are commonplace in such areas. It was also stressed that when such situations occur, informants tend to exaggerate to misrepresent the facts and accuse the perpetrators.
The Learned Counsel representing Ms Deepa Tomar drew the Court’s attention towards the facts and observations of the trial of Ms Deepa Tomar. In the trial, it was recorded by the Court that the relationship between the husband of Ms Deepa Tomar & Ms Deepa Tomar was strained. Consequently, she and her family members were accused of having abducted him. Therefore the Trial Court, after examining the evidence led by the prosecution, the candidate was acquitted. Furthermore, the Learned Counsel submitted that the recordings and observations by the trial court had to be duly considered and appropriate weight given by the standing committee. Learned counsel submitted that the Screening Committee did not apply its mind and only considered the seriousness of the offence to hold the candidate Deepa Tomar disqualified.
After hearing the arguments of both the side of the case and examining the evidence of the case the Court observed few points and gave its judgement. Any judgement has a rationale behind it, and that rationale must be known while reading the judgement. So while analyzing the judgement, we will look into the observation of the Court, the referred judgements and the final judgement. The following are the facts about each candidate/respondent:
- Raj Kumar: FIR was filed against him on 14.10.2007 under Sections 143, 451, 323, 336, 382 of the IPC, cognisance was taken under sec. 147, 451, 323, 336 of the IPC. Lastly, he was convicted as charges were not proved against him under Sections 147 and 336; also, charges were compromised under Sections 451 and 323.
- Shiv Singh: This candidate was accused of offences under sections 323, 341, 325, 34 of IPC. Under Sections 323, 341, 325, 34 IPC, he was acquitted based on the compromise deed dated 01.12.2019.
- Deepa Tomar: A FIR was lodged against her under sections 364, 506, 120 under IPC, and lastly, she was acquitted under Sections 120B, 364 IPC as the prosecution could not prove the charges beyond the doubt.
- Prem Singh Choudhary: As the cases above, this candidate also had an FIR under section Sections 143, 341, and 323 of the IPC, and at last likewise in the above cases, he was acquitted under Sections 323, 341, 325, 34 IPC based on compromise with the informant.
After analysing the candidates’ cases individually, the Court referred to the Standing order No.398/2010, which is relevant for an appropriate decision in cases where the candidature of the candidates is needed to be examined. It is formally known as Standing Order NO. 398/2010 policy for deciding cases of candidates provisionally selected in Delhi police involved in criminal cases (Facing Trial or Acquitted). Rule 3 of the policy states that “If a candidate had disclosed his/her involvement and/or arrest in criminal cases, complaint case, preventive proceedings etc. and the case is pending investigation or pending trial, the candidature will be kept in abeyance till the final decision of the case. After the court’ judgment, if the candidate is acquitted or discharged, the case will be referred to the Screening Committee of the PHQ comprising of Special Commissioner of Police/Administration, Joint Commissioner of Police/Headquarters and Joint Commissioner of Police/Vigilance to assess his/her suitability for appointment in Delhi Police.” Similarly, rule 4 talks about a candidate who had disclosed his/her involvement in the criminal case, both in the application form as well as in the attestation form, but was acquitted or discharged by the Court, then his application would be sent to the Screening Committee.
Coming to Rule 6 that talks about the disqualification of a candidate who had been involved in the criminal case involving offences that fall in the category of serious offences or moral turpitude and states that the screening committee’s decision shall be final. Rule 7 of the order talks about a candidate who had faced trial in a criminal case that does not fall in the category of moral turpitude. The Court subsequently acquits him, so this rule leaves the matter to the screening committee.
The offences which involve moral turpitude are explicitly listed in the Annexure A of the Standing order No.398/2010. The Court also observed after reading the Standing order No.398/2010 that there are several offences listed in this order in which it is stated that if a candidate is involved in the particular offences then regardless of his status, in that case, i.e. whether he is acquitted or stood trial, he would be disqualified from the candidature. The Court made this observation, “The Screening Committee will be within its rights to cancel the candidature of a candidate if it finds that the acquittal is based on some serious flaw in the conduct of the prosecution case or is the result of material witnesses turning hostile. It is only experienced officers of the Screening Committee who will be able to judge whether the acquitted or discharged candidate is likely to revert to similar activities in future with more strength and vigour, if appointed, to the post in the police force.”
The Court went ahead and analysed the candidate’s cases individually, starting with Raj Kumar. Hence, the Court noted that Raj Kumar is accused of committing an offence under Sections 143,323,336 and 451 of the IPC and the rejection of candidature from the post of constable of Delhi Police by the screening committee was due to the existence of criminal charges against him. The High Court’s division bench believed that referring to the facts, the Screening Committee mechanically approached this task and rejected Raj Kumar’s candidature. The Supreme Court observed that the screening committee reviewed the case records and noted that a compromise had been recorded with the Court’s approval of two incidents. In contrast, in serious offences, the candidate was trialled but acquitted on account of insufficient evidence and that the prosecution storey was not supported by “material witnesses.” Therefore the Court opined that the screening committee was proper in their decision, and the decision of the High Court cannot be supported.
Coming down to the second case of the candidate named Shiv Singh, who was accused of committing offences punishable under Sections 323, 341, 325 and 34 of the IPC. The Court observed that the offences were prima facie made out against Shiv Singh. However, the Court did not neglect that compromise was arrived at between the parties through an order issued on 01.12.2009 by the trial court. The screening committee, after analyzing the case of this applicant, was of the opinion that the nature of offences involved, in the case of the candidate, was not suitable because of his propensity to indulge in such behavior without fear of law and therefore, he cannot be considered legitimate for the post. Here the High Court observed that the Screening Committee’s order was a mechanical exercise of power and carried no reasoning, and the Court observed that the candidate was young. Here, the Supreme Court stated that “The High Court’s approach in determining whether evidence existed (in support of criminal charges), its credibility, particularly after a charge sheet was filed, and based on its appreciation of those materials, without the benefit of all relevant records and evidence in judicial review, cannot be sustained.”
The third case was of Prem Singh Choudhary, who was charged with committing offences punishable under Sections 143, 323, 341of the IPC. Similar to the other cases above, this case was also compromised, and the Court acquitted the candidate. The screening committee taking note of the incidents the candidate was disqualified from the appointment. The High Court took note of the standing committee’s decision and stated that the accused was not charged under Section 325 IPC, that he was young and aged 22 years, that the informant had not suffered severe injuries. Also, the High Court said that the screening committee acted mechanically and did not focus on the minor details. The Supreme Court in this matter said that the job of the High Court in this matter was not to decide on appeal over the decision of the Screening Committee. The Court further said that Standing Committee had the benefit of the overall records to consider his suitability, and the committee’s decision cannot be brushed aside only due to mechanical functioning.
The last case in the batch of candidates was of Deepa Tomar, who was accused and her father of an offence punishable under sections 120-B/364 of the IPC. Deepa Tomar and his father were accused of abducting her husband named Jitender Singh. However, after facing trial, both accused were acquitted on the grounds of unavailability of evidence. The standing committee noted that the acquittal of Deepa Tomar was based on the benefit of the doubt and thus, she is not fit for the appointment. While quashing the decision of the standing committee, the Court mentioned few facts about Deepa Tomar’s case:
- Deepa left her in-laws house and came to her parental house due to some family issues.
- Also, Jitender used to visit Deepa that would not make any sense that Deepa and her father abducted Jitender and made him disappear.
- The screening committee has only considered the label of the offence and not on the facts and circumstances of the case upon which Deepa and her father were acquitted.
The apex court reviewing the decision of the High Court stated that “the intensive factual scrutiny which led the impugned order to conclude that the decision of the screening committee is not sustainable is impermissible under Article 226 of the Constitution.” Furthermore, the Court further stated that fact appreciation by the High Court and the intensive scrutiny of the evidence by the High Court is an exercise of the overreach of the judicial review process.
After examining the cases of the candidates individually, the Supreme Court referred to few cases and noted the observations of the Court in that case:
- M.V. Thimmaiah v. Union Public Service Commission: In this case, the Court said that if a court is doing a judicial review for suitability of a candidate then, searching for illegality by the public employer or intense scrutiny on why a candidate is excluded as unsuitable can be suspected as an attempt by the judiciary to trespass into the authority of executive power to determine the suitability of an individual for an appointment.
- Dalpat Abasaheb Solunke v Dr. B.S. Mahajan: The Supreme Court, in this case, stated that the Court could not override the decision of the selection committee, and it is not the function of the Court to hear appeals over the decisions of the Selection Committees. Also, the Court noted that the High Court had breached its jurisdiction in sitting over an appeal over the selection and setting it aside in this particular case.
The Court further defined public service as “Public service – like any other, pre-supposes that the state employer has an element of latitude or choice on who should enter its service. 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.
The Court further said that Judicial Review must only ensure that those norms are fair and reasonable and applied fairly in a non-discriminatory manner. The choice of the public employer is greatest until and unless the selection process is illegal and unfair.
The Court finally laid down the judgement that: The High Court carried a view/generalization that the age and background of the candidates gave acceptability to the petty crime or misdemeanor and that they should not be seen with seriousness. However, the Supreme Court believes that such generalizations, leading to condonation of the offender’s conduct, should not enter the judicial verdict and should be avoided. The Court further said, “that due to the reasons stated above, 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.”