Justice Denied In Judicial Exams: How HCS (JB) Exam 2019 Became An Ode to Arbitrariness

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The Indian judicial system is plagued by one of its worst crises of pendency, and an important tool to reduce pendency and make fair and speedy justice accessible to all is to recruit judges on vacant posts. In fact, the Hon'ble Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has passed strictures in that regard from time to time.

It was then all the more surprising that one of the most reputed judicial service examinations conducted by the State of Haryana to recruit judicial officers, would be marred by abject arbitrariness and demonstrable unwillingness to recruit judicial officers and reduce pendency of cases.

The long and storied mismanagement of the Harayana Civil Service (Judicial Branch) Examination traces its origin to 2017 when the Preliminary Exam was cancelled by the Hon'ble Punjab and Haryana High Court pursuant to allegations of corruption and quid-pro-quo which lead to a paper leak.

After a long wait the 2017 Exam was advertised afresh for a total of 107 vacancies (75 vacancies in the General category alone). There were a total of 32,230 applicants, out of which 1,282 candidates cleared the preliminary exam and proceeded to the next stage of Mains exam. It may be mentioned here that the qualifying marks of the Main Exam are 50 % aggregate of all the papers, and 33 % in each individual paper.

On 11 April 2019, i.e. approximately after 20 odd days, the result for the Mains Exam was released declaring that only 9 candidates qualified, including 6 in the General category, for the next stage of interview.

The above result invites disbelief as to how thousands of candidates were declared to have not even met the minimum eligible criteria of 50% aggregate marks and a mere 33% in each paper.

What caused more shock was the fact that many of the candidates who had been declared unqualified had actually cleared the judicial service exams of other states with high ranks, and had been top-scorers and gold medalists in respective law universities. It is hard to believe that such candidates could not even score 50 % overall in the exam and a mere 33% per paper.

The result even flies in the face of the Exam's official advertisement and Judicial Service Rules which mandate that the number of candidates at least thrice the advertised vacancies, should be called for the interview stage.

The above scenario discloses a shocking level of arbitrariness in the evaluation of answer sheets, and has demoralised many deserving candidates from aspiring towards a career in judiciary, many of whom wrote these exams by denying the high paying corporate and law firm jobs which they could have easily secured in their college placements, but rather steered towards public service as a career option.

The result is prima facie arbitrary and demonstrates an unwillingness to timely fill vacancies in the judiciary and runs foul to the Hon'ble Supreme Court's directions in that regard, by making a mockery of the process. It is inconceivable that only 9 candidates secured the bare minimum passing marks, and rest everyone (including sitting judicial officers in other states) could not even qualify.

What further raises eyebrows is the complete and abject opacity surrounding the release of the result. Many RTI applications filed in this regard are yet to see the light of the day. Moreover, when the result was released the individual scores of the 9 successful candidates were not revealed. Even a consolidated marks list of all the candidates was not released, leaving us with no idea as to gauging our performance. Furthermore, even the 9 successful candidates have not been ranked according to their scores, rather merely in the ascending order of their roll numbers.

The entire process is a repeat of the Delhi Judicial Service Examination 2014 fiasco wherein out of an odd 650 candidates who wrote the Main Examination, a paltry 15 were declared qualified as against 80 vacancies. In CPIL v. Registrar General, High Court of Delhi (2015 Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution), the Apex Court took cognisance of this arbitrariness in evaluation and tasked a retired Supreme Court Judge to re-evaluate the papers, after which many candidates who had been declared unsuccessful were found to have qualified with flying colours.

The entire process raises serious doubts upon the credibility of the process, and what is worse, it has demoralised many prospective aspirants from looking towards judicial services as a career option. That something like this can be pulled off when the judiciary as an institution is battling its worst crisis of pendency, is all the more appalling.

To undo this damage, we seek a re-evaluation of the answer sheets in a fair, and non-arbitrary manner, and transparency in the entire process. We seek a stay on the conduct of the interview process until the papers have been re-evaluated, so that justice is upheld.