A Division Bench of the Delhi High Court on 24 April set aside a previous Single Judge judgement, which had called for starting afresh the process of appointing the Principal of Hindu College.
The appeal was made by the Governing Body (GB) of Hindu College against a previous judgement of the High Court, dated 27 November 2018, which had said that there was “no transparency in the whole process” (of appointing the college Principal) and had issued directives for the procedure forward.
The previous appeal had been made by Dr Ratan Lal, Professor at Hindu College, who had alleged that the selection procedure had been arbitrary and had discriminated against him owing to his Scheduled Caste (SC) background. He had alleged that the selection procedure was an “eyewash” and that the selection of the Officiating Principal of the college, Dr Anju Srivastava, as Principal had been “pre-decided”.
However, the Division Bench of Justices S. Muralidhar and I.S. Mehta set aside the previous judgement of the Single Judge. Broadly, this judgement touched upon three questions – of the composition of the Screening Committee, of awarding Academic Performance Indicator (API) scores to the applicants and of allegations of mala fide against the committee.
The Screening Committee was supposed to be formed by the GB of the college to form the list of applications eligible for the post of the Principal. According to University guidelines, if any of the applicants was an SC/ST/OBC/Women/Minority/PWD candidate, it was required for the Screening Committee to have an academician – nominated by the GB – representing those categories, if a member of the committee did not already belong to those categories.
Dr Lal had earlier alleged that the committee lacked an academician representing the SC category. The Single Judge had acknowledged this and directed the formation of a new committee, ensuring SC representation.
The Division Bench, however, ruled differently. “The learned Single Judge erred in holding that the person so nominated has to belong to the very category to which the candidate belongs. For instance, if the Applicant is a person with disability of a particular kind, like for e.g., hearing impairment, it is not necessary that the said academician has to himself or herself be hearing impaired. Such an interpretation would make the provision unworkable. It is sufficient that the academician nominated belongs to anyone of the categories”, the judgement read.
Moreover, the Court also ruled in favour of the appellant in concluding that Screening Committee did not discriminate against Dr Lal. The Court said that the Chairman of the GB was only one of the members of Pre-Screening Committee (PSC) – constituted by the University to scrutinise the applications – and the Screening Committee and that it would not have been possible for him to influence the decision of each of the other members of those committees, who themselves were “experts in their respective fields.” The judgement further read, “apart from some vague allegations which remained unverified, and unsupported by credible material, Respondent No.1 (Dr Lal) has not been able to substantiate the plea of bias or a deliberate attempt by the PSC and the Screening Committee to keep him out of the race.”
An API score of 400, based on criteria like research publications, was needed for an applicant to be shortlisted for the interview stage of the selection process. Dr Lal had self-assessed an API of 496, however he was awarded 95, which was later revised to 128 points. The Court recounted previous judgements of the Supreme Court and opined that it should “leave the decisions of academic matters to the experts who are more familiar with the problems they face than the Courts” as long as “there is no allegation of mala fides against the experts”.
The Court did not find any discrepancies in how the API scores were awarded. “Respondent No.1 was not being singled out by the PSC for the reduction of his API score to 95. This downward revision took place for other candidates as well… If, as alleged by Respondent No.1 the Screening Committee was ‘hand-picked’ in order to eliminate him from the race, it need not have revised his API score upwards (from 95 to 128) at all.”
Dr Lal had also raised objections over the API of 405 awarded to Dr Srivastava, who had also applied for the post. However, the Court, being of the opinion that it fell beyond its expertise to decide the merit of individual applicants – “The Court cannot substitute itself for the Committees and decide who is the best among the candidates for the post” – did not adjudicate on whether the API awarded to Dr Srivastava was justified.
On the count of mala fides submitted by the advocate appearing for Dr Lal, the Court said, “Here it is pointed out by Mr. Kapur (the advocate of the appellant) that despite Respondent No.1 having been barred from holding any administrative post, consequent to disciplinary proceedings against him, an NOC (No Objection Certificate) was given to him for applying for the post of Principal that showed that there was no bias harboured against Respondent No.1 by the Appellant.
In the present case, the pleadings concerning mala fides were nonexistent. Even the allegation made during arguments in this appeal regarding the education expert in the Screening Committee being ‘a close relative’ of an Advisor to the Appellant, is too vague and general to merit serious consideration particularly when it is not even pleaded in the writ petition. Further, it is not shown how this has affected the decision of the multi-member Screening Committee… there was no basis on which the learned Single Judge could have come to a conclusion as regards mala fides”.
To conclude, the Court stated, “the impugned judgment of the learned Single Judge is hereby set aside.”
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