In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the Centre has said that giving an additional attempt or relaxation in age for some candidates would amount to extending differential treatment to similarly placed aspirants at the examination.
The affidavit was filed days after the Centre had told the top court that it was not in favour of granting one more opportunity to civil services aspirants who could not appear in their last attempt in 2020.
“Therefore, any relief to the petitioner, apart from being meritless, would also result seriously prejudicing other candidates in the future.
“It is therefore respectfully submitted that accommodating the present petitioners would create a cascading effect detrimental to the overall functioning and level playing field necessary to be provided in any public examination system,” said the affidavit, filed by an under secretary in the Department of Personnel and Training.
The top court which is hearing a plea seeking grant of one more chance to appear in the UPSC’s civil services examination to those aspirants who could not appear in their last attempt in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The matter was listed on Monday before a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar, which posted it for hearing on January 28.
“We are informed by Additional Solicitor General that the reply affidavit has already been filed. Registry to ascertain that position and circulate a copy of the reply. The petitioners are permitted to file rejoinder thereto by January 27, 2021 through e-mail. Parties are free to file written note of submissions by January 27, 2021. List these matters on January 28,” the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Krishna Murari, said in its order.
In its affidavit filed in the top court, the Centre has said, “It may be noted that providing an extra attempt could further have a cascading effect by creating a ground for challenge on part of those candidates who have already appeared for the CS (Preliminary) Examination-2020.”
“At the outset, it is curious to note that the petitioners, who participated in the examination with open eyes, only approached this court after the results of the examination was declared. Be that as it may, it is submitted the UPSC made all the necessary arrangements for the conduct of CS (Preliminary) Examination-2020 on October 4, 2020, in a safe and efficient manner adhering to all the COVID-19 safety protocols issued by the Government of India from time to time,” it said.
It said the UPSC had given an option to aspirants to change their centre for the exam to cater to candidates who would have moved to a different location owing to the pandemic
It said a total of 4,86,952 candidates appeared in the October 4 last year examination and the UPSC had “left no stone unturned in their pursuit to accommodate for the means and interests of the candidates.”
“It is further submitted that the contention by the petitioners that their preparation was hampered due to the stress caused by the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, does not hold weight as the UPSC had already given extra time to the candidates by postponing the CS (preliminary) examination-2020 from May 31, 2020 to October 4, 2020,” it said, adding that these conditions would have affected every candidate at the examination in a similar way.
“It is further submitted that giving an additional attempt or relaxation in age for some candidates would amount to extending differential treatment to similarly placed candidates at the examination,” it said.
The affidavit said that other non-final attempt candidates, who undertook the examination “without any murmur of discontent”, would be disadvantageously placed in future examinations if the relief prayed for by the petitioners is granted as it would enable vast number of experienced candidates to participate again, thereby making the future examination excessively competitive.
“It is submitted that such other non-final attempt candidates would therefore have a legitimate grievance against such participation as their chances to be selected in such future examination would be seriously jeopardized,” it said.
“It is submitted that as indicated above, apart from having a cascading effect, the same will lead un-levelling of the playing field for the prospective candidates that too after the petitioner have participated in the process willingly,” it said.
The Centre said that in October last year, fifth phase of Unlock was in effect, resulting in removal of most of the restrictions with respect to movement of public.
The top court on September 30 last year had refused to postpone the UPSC civil services preliminary exam, which was held on October 4, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and floods in several parts of the country.
However, it had directed the central government and the Union Public Service Commission to consider granting an extra chance to candidates who otherwise have their last attempt in 2020, with corresponding extension of the upper age-limit.
The bench was then told that a formal decision can be taken by the Department of Personnel and Training only.