Analysis of the Supreme Court Judgment regarding disclosure of Civil Service results by UPSC
In a recent case, the Supreme Court has examined the question of disclosure of Civil Service results by UPSC and held that the information sought regarding marks in Civil Services Exam cannot be furnished. An analysis of the judgment is given below:-
Some unsuccessful candidates in the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination, 2010 approached the High Court for a direction to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) to disclose the details of marks (raw and scaled) awarded to them in the Civil Services (Prelims) Examination, 2010.
The information in the form of cut-off marks for every subject, scaling methodology, model answers and complete result of all candidates were also sought.
View of the High Court
The learned Single Judge directed that the information sought be provided within fifteen days. The said view of the Single Judge was been affirmed by the Division Bench of the High Court.
The Problems in showing evaluated answer books to candidates as per UPSC:
(i) Final awards subsume earlier stages of evaluation. Disclosing answer books would reveal intermediate stages too, including the so-called ‘raw marks’ which would have negative implications for the integrity of the examination system, as detailed in Section (C) below.
(ii) The evaluation process involves several stages. Awards assigned initially by an examiner can be struck out and revised due to
(a) totalling mistakes, portions unevaluated, extra attempts (beyond prescribed number) being later corrected as a result of clerical scrutiny,
(b) The examiner changing his own awards during the course of evaluation either because he/she marked it differently initially due to an inadvertent error or because he/she corrected himself/herself to be more in conformity with the accepted standards, after discussion with Head Examiner/colleague examiners,
(c) Initial awards of the Additional Examiner being revised by the Head Examiner during the latter’s check of the former’s work,
(d) the Additional Examiner’s work having been found erratic by the Head Examiner, been rechecked entirely by another examiner, with or without the Head Examiner again rechecking this work.
(iii) The corrections made in the answer book would likely arouse doubt and perhaps even suspicion in the candidate’s mind. Where such corrections lead to a lowering of earlier awards, this would not only breed representations/grievances, but would likely lead to litigation. In the only evaluated answer book that has so far been shown to a candidate (Shri Gaurav Gupta in WP No. 3683 of 2012 in Gaurav Gupta v. UPSC dated 6.7.2012(Del.)) on the orders of the High Court, Delhi and that too, with the marks assigned masked; the candidate has nevertheless filed a fresh WP alleging improper evaluation.
(iv) As relative merit and not absolute merit is the criterion here (unlike academic examinations), a feeling of the initial marks/revision made being considered harsh when looking at the particular answer script in isolation could arise without appreciating that similar standards have been applied to all others in the field. Non-appreciation of this would lead to erosion of faith and credibility in the system and challenges to the integrity of the system, including through litigation.
(v) With the disclosure of evaluated answer books, the danger of coaching institutes collecting copies of these from candidates (after perhaps encouraging/inducing them to apply for copies of their answer books under the RTI Act) is real, with all its attendant implications.
(vi) With disclosure of answer books to candidates, it is likely that at least some of the relevant examiners also get access to these. Their possible resentment at their initial awards (that they would probably recognise from the fictitious code numbers and/or their markings, especially for low-candidature subjects) having been superseded (either due to inter-examiner or inter-subject moderation) would lead to bad blood between Additional Examiners and the Head Examiner on the one hand, and between examiners and the Commission, on the other hand. The free and frank manner in which Head Examiners, for instance, review the work of their colleague Additional Examiners, would likely be impacted. Quality of assessment standards would suffer.
(vii) Some of the optional papers have very low candidature (sometimes only one), especially the literature papers. Even if all examiners’ initials are masked (which too is difficult logistically, as each answer book has several pages, and examiners often record their initials and comments on several pages with revisions/corrections, where done, adding to the size of the problem), the way marks are awarded could itself be a give away in revealing the examiner’s identity. If the masking falters at any stage, then the examiner’s identity is pitilessly exposed. The ‘catchment area’ of candidates and examiners in some of these low-candidature papers is known to be limited. Any such possibility of the examiner’s identity getting revealed in such a high-stakes examination would have serious implications, both for the integrity and fairness of the examination system and for the security and safety of the examiner. The matter is compounded by the fact that we have publicly stated in different contexts earlier that the paper-setter is also generally the Head Examiner.
(viii) UPSC is now able to get some of the best teachers and scholars in the country to be associated in its evaluation work. An important reason for this is no doubt the assurance of their anonymity, for which the Commission goes to great lengths. Once disclosure of answer books starts and the inevitable challenges (including litigation) from disappointed candidates starts, it is only a matter of time before these examiners who would be called upon to explain their assessment/award, decline to accept further assignments from the Commission. A resultant corollary would be that examiners who then accept this assignment would be sorely tempted to play safe in their marking, neither awarding outstanding marks nor very low marks, even where these are deserved. Mediocrity would reign supreme and not only the prestige, but the very integrity of the system would be compromised markedly.
View of the Supreme Court
The observations of the Supreme Court:
- Purposive interpretation - In interpreting the scheme of the Act, this Court has read inherent limitation in Sections 3 and 6 based on the Third Recital in the Preamble to the Act. While balancing the right to information, public interest including efficient working of the Government, optimum use of fiscal resources and preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information has to be balanced and can be a guiding factor to deal with a given situation de hors Sections 8, 9 and 11. The SC observed that the High Court has not applied the said parameters.
- The SC referred to the problems in showing evaluated answer sheets in the UPSC Civil Services Examination are recorded in Prashant Ramesh Chakkarwar v. UPSC.
- Weighing the need for transparency and accountability on the one hand and requirement of optimum use of fiscal resources and confidentiality of sensitive information on the other, the SC was of the view that information sought with regard to marks in Civil Services Exam cannot be directed to be furnished mechanically.
- Situation of exams of other academic bodies may stand on different footing.
- If a case is made out where the Court finds that public interest requires furnishing of information, the Court is certainly entitled to so require in a given fact situation.
The denial of information is not based on the exemption sections of the RTI Act, 2005. The Apex Court has relied upon the Purposive interpretation of the RTI Act giving emphasis on the Preamble of the Act to come to the decision .
- The raw marks of the Civil services are no longer liable to be disclosed unless a larger bench overrules this order.
- Some other exam conducting bodies may try to take shelter of this judgment. However, as the Supreme Court observed, the situation of exams of other academic bodies may stand on different footing.
- Even in respect of Civil Service exams, if a case is made out for larger public interest requiring disclosure of information, the case is still open giving the facts of the situation.
Citation: Union Public Service Commission And Others V. Angesh Kumar & Ors in Civil Appeal No.(S).6159-6162 Of 2013, Decision dated February 20, 2018
To have a look at the original judgment, please click at the link - http://www.rtifoundationofindia.com/Judgement_20-Feb-2018.pdf