‘Lame excuse’: SC rejects Covid plea for extra USPC attempt

The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that petitioners, who sought an extra chance to appear for the UPSC exam after exhausting their last attempt in October last year, made “a lame excuse” under the guise of Covid-19 to participate in the Civil Service Examination scheduled in 2021.

A bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Indu Malhotra and Ajay Rastogi said: “What is being claimed and prayed for under the guise of Covid-19 pandemic is nothing but a lame excuse in taking additional attempt to participate in the Civil Service Examination 2021 to be held in future and we find no substance in either of the submissions which has been made before us.”

The top court noted that if an additional attempt remains restricted to those who made their last attempt as they claimed to have suffered during Covid-19 pandemic, all who appeared in the exam last year, irrespective of the nature of attempt (i.e. 1st, 2nd etc.), must have faced the same consequences as faced by writ petitioners. “Each one of them have suffered in one way or the other during the Covid-19 pandemic,” it noted.

The Centre had told the Supreme Court that it is not in favour of one-time relaxation to Civil Service aspirants, to those who are age-barred, as it will be discriminatory to other candidates. However, the government mellowed down its stand after the court’s suggestion for an extra chance, but contested any age relaxation, if candidates were given an extra attempt.

The petitioners, who had exhausted their shot at the exam in October last year, did not budge and sought both age relaxation along with an extra attempt. At this, the top court reserved the verdict.

The top court noted the data furnished by the UPSC clearly indicate that various selections have been held for central services in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic and selections must have been held by state commissions and other recruiting agencies. “If this court shows indulgence to few who had participated in the Examination 2020, it will set down a precedent and also have cascading effect on examinations in other streams, for which we are dissuaded to exercise plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution,” it said, dismissing the plea.

Presently, candidates from general category get six attempts till age of 32, OBC candidates nine attempts till 35 and SC/ST candidates unlimited attempts till the age of 37 years to appear in Civil Services examinations. By postponing the preliminary examination from May 31 to October 4, 2020, the UPSC had already given extra time to the candidates.

“No assistance can be claimed by the petitioners in seeking mandamus to the 1st respondent (government) to come out with a policy granting relaxation to the participants who had availed a final and last attempt or have crossed the upper age by appearing in the Examination 2020 as a matter of right,” the court maintained.

The top court cited that Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions (Department of Personnel and Training) rules for 2020 examination did not provide any discretion to the government to grant any relaxation either in attempt or age to the candidates.

“Any relaxation which is not permissible either in attempt or age under the scheme of Rules 2020, apart from being in contravention to the rules, may be discriminatory, and it is advisable not to exercise discretion in implementing what being proposed by the 1st respondent (government) in compliance of the order of this Court dated 30th September 2020 (where it suggested some relaxation),” it noted.

As the petitioners cited that in 2015, a similar concession was granted by the government, the court declined to entertain this line of argument, stating that it was done due to change in the examination pattern and syllabus.