(1) Each year, there is a Joint Entrance Examination for selection of candidates for admission to the Medical and Engineering Colleges and also there is an Entrance Examination for selection of candidates for admission to Post-Graduate Courses in the Government Medical Colleges of Orissa and each year, these give rise to a number of litigations touching every aspect of the said examinations - the eligibility criteria, the residential requirement, the setting of question papers, the evaluation of answer scripts, the selection process - and with respect to the Post-Graduate Courses - the allotment of a discipline. Hardly ink dries on judgments relating to previous years that fresh crop of litigations comes up. The present writ application is one of such fresh crop.
(2) This case does not involve any complicated issue. The petitioner says that since the last date of receipt of application forms was 17-10-2000 and the entrance examination is now to be held on the 12th of November, 2000, he should be permitted to appear at the entrance examination as he has completed his rotatory internship/house-manship. Equally, simple is the reply of the opposite parties that the petitioner may have completed the housemanship before the last date of submission of the application form, but he was not eligible as he has not completed the housemanship/internship by the 31st of March, 2000. To this, the reply of the petitioner is that the cut-off date fixed by the authorities is arbitrary, mala fide and with the ulterior motive of denying the petitioner and the other similarly situated candidates to take up the entrance examination. The opposite parties say that the contentions of the petitioner are unfounded, as the 31st of March, 2000 has been fixed as the cut-off date following the precedents and it was wrong to allege that the action of the authorities in fixing the cut-off date is arbitrary or mala fide. The petitioner states that since the object of the entrance examination is to select the best, that object will be frustrated if the petitioner and the others like him are not permitted to take up the entrance examination. Protection is also sought under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution of India as, according to the petitioner, he is being denied of an equal opportunity by the action of the opposite parties. This, the opposite parties deny.
(3) In support to the contentions, reliance was placed by the petitioner on the decisions of the Apex Court in D. S. Nakara v. Union of India, AIR 1983 SC 130, Bhupinderpal Singh v. State of Punjab, (2000) 5 SCC 262 : (AIR 2000 SC 2011) and Pema Ram v. State of Rajasthan, 1982 Lab IC 1291 (Raj).
(4) To begin with, it may be stated that reference to Article 16 of the Constitution of India which relates to the right of equal opportunity in matters of employment is misconceived. As regards the discrimination pleaded under Article 14, it may be mentioned that on the facts and in the circumstances of the case, that is also misplaced.
(5) The action of the authorities in not permitting the petitioner to take up the entrance examination in question is said to be unreasonable, arbitrary and discriminatory. But, is it so?
(6) Admittedly, under the Prospectus, only those candidates who have completed the rotatory housemanship/internship by the 31st of March, 2000 are eligible to take up the entrance examination. But, it is not the case of the petitioner that though he has completed the course by the 31st of March, 2000, he is not being permitted to take up the examination in question. On the contrary, he admits that he has not completed the course by the 31st (sic) of September, 2000 which is before the last date fixed for submission of the application form and hence he should be permitted to take up the examination in question. Therefore, obviously, the petitioner and others like him form a different group or category. It is not his case that other similarly situated candidates, i.e. who did not complete their housemanship/internship by the 31st of March, 2000, but completed it thereafter, are being permitted to take up the examination in question. Had this been the case, the petitioner would have been laid to be a victim of discrimination. But, this is not so. Rather, it is his case that candidates belonging to the second category/group, i.e. who have completed the housemanship/internship after the 31st of March, 2000, are not being permitted and hence they should also be permitted to take up the entrance examination in question. In such a situation, the question of any discrimination cannot arise, for these are two different categories - one fulfilling the eligibility criteria and the other not - and, therefore, the question of treating both the categories similarly and as belonging to one group does not arise.
(7) It was no doubt contended that the action of the authorities is mala fide and with the ulterior purpose of denying the petitioner and the like to take up the examination in question, but how the fixation of the cut-off date is mala fide or with ulterior motive is not stated. That apart, the petitioner was a student of the S.C.B. Medical College and Hospital, Cuttack whose Principal is the Convenor of the Post-Graduate Medical Selection Committee, 2000-2001 and, therefore, there seems to be no reason as to why he would act in a manner prejudicial to the students of that institution. The reason for fixing the cut-off date as the 31st of March, 2000 is simple that that is the date which is being fixed year after year and in normal course, it has so been done in the present year also. The action of the authorities does not, therefore, appear to be with any ulterior motive nor can it be said that it has been done arbitrarily. It cannot be denied that whether it relates to admission or recruitment, it becomes necessary to fix a cut-off date by which the eligibility criteria, be it the age or the qualification, are to be fulfilled by the intending candidate. In case a cut-off date is not fixed, it will lead to various complications and uncertainty, for some might claim to be eligible with reference to their date of applications while the others may claim eligibility with reference to the date of interview or appointment. A cut-off date cannot be fixed with mathematical precision and there has to be some amount of discretion with the prescribed authority in fixing that date. It is the case of the authority that in the case at hand, they have followed the past precedents. This cannot be said to be unreasonable and since a cut-off date has been fixed, the eligibility of the petitioner will have to be considered on the basis of the criteria fixed in the Prospectus.
(8) The petitioner then says that since the object of the entrance test is to select the best from amongst the available candidates or the more meritorious for admission to P. G. Course, the object will be lost if they are denied an opportunity to appear in the examination in question. No doubt, the best or the more meritorious candidates have to be selected, but it has to be with reference to those who fulfilled the eligibility criteria on the cut-off date. Thus from all such candidates (who fulfilled the eligibility criteria), a selection will be made by holding an entrance examination. In that manner, the object will be achieved. Rather, to permit those who do not fulfil the eligibility criteria as laid down, to compete, would be an act contrary to the provisions contained in the Prospectus and such a direction ought not to and cannot be issued.
(9) The fact that some other Medical Institutions in the country (which are listed at Annexure 6) have permitted even those who are in the process of completing their housemanship/internship to take up the entrance examination for selection for admission to those Institutions, cannot be a ground for annulling the action of the present opposite parties, in particular, the Post-Graduate Selection Committee, 2000-2001, which has fixed different criteria. No rule, regulation or guideline of the Medical Council of India was brought to the notice of the Court with reference to which it could be said that the adoption of an eligibility criterion by fixing the 31st of March, 2000 as the cut-off date for completion of housemanship/internship, was unwarranted. It is also not the case of the petitioner, and had it been so, that also may not have been relevant, that if he cannot appear in this year's examination, the chance to appear will be lost for ever. Thus, the petitioner will have an opportunity to take up the entrance test in the subsequent year.
(10) Referring to paragraphs 11, 12 and 15 of the decision of the Apex Court in D. S. Nakara's case (AIR 1983 SC 130) (supra), it was submitted that in order to pass the test of Article 14 of the Constitution of India, (i) the classification must be founded on intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from those that are left out of the group; and (ii) that differentia must have a rational relation to the objects sought to be achieved.
(11) In the case at hand, a cut-off date has been fixed and in doing so, the authorities have not acted in an arbitrary manner. Judging thereby, two distinct groups emerge - one that fulfils the eligibility criteria by the date fixed and the others who don't. Judged by the date which was the last date for application, though, not strictly speaking all have completed their compulsory rotatory housemanship/internship in this common group itself, there are two well defined classes - one who fulfil the criteria on the cut-off date and the others, may be many like the petitioner, who do not. Therefore, these are two well defined and distinct groups within a common larger group and they being different, are being treated differently. In such a situation, to say that the petitioner and the others like him are being denied an equal opportunity would not be correct. The first test is, therefore, satisfied inasmuch as those who do not fulfil the eligibility criteria by the 31st of March, 2000 are treated differently. The object is to select the best from those who are eligible with reference to the cut-off date. That would be done by holding an entrance examination is to select the best from out of the available candidates who fulfilled, the eligibility criteria with reference to the cut-off date. This is exactly what is being done in the instant case. Thus, the second test is also satisfied. The action of the authorities, therefore, in not permitting the petitioner to take up the entrance test in question cannot be said to be in contravention of the principle of equality.
(12) Reliable placed on the decision of the Apex Court in Bhupinderpal Singh's case (AIR 2000 SC 2011) (supra) is misconceived. That was a case in which the practice in the State of Punjab for determining eligibility condition as on the date of interview was directed to be discontinued. In the said case, the Apex Court observed that if the cut-off date is laid down in the relevant rules, it has to be followed otherwise it may be prescribed in advertisement and if no such date is prescribed, eligibility has to be determined as on the last date of receipt of applications. Probably, the contention of the petitioner in the present case that his candidature should be accepted as he has fulfilled the eligibility criteria on the last date of receipt of applications, is on the basis for the second observation of the Apex Court by (the petitioner) overlooking the first observation wherein it is said that "if the cut-off date is laid down in relevant rules, it has to be followed otherwise it may be prescribed in advertisement. In the case at hand, the cut-off has been prescribed or laid down in the Prospectus and once it is so, the eligibility will have to be determined with reference to that cut-off date alone, for had not the date been prescribed, as observed by the Apex Court, eligibility would be determined as on the last date of receipt of the applications. It is no doubt true, in Bhupinderpal Singh's case (supra), the appointments made were not disturbed but that was done by the Apex Court in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to do complete justice in the facts and circumstances of that case.
(13) As regards the fixation of a cut-off date, it was observed by the Apex Court.
"In view of several decisions of this Court relied on by the High Court and referred to hereinabove, it was expected of the State Government notifying the vacancies to have clearly laid down and stated the cut-off date by reference to which the applicants were required to satisfy their eligibility. This was not done. It was pointed out on behalf of the several appellant-petitioners before this Court that the practice prevalent in Punjab has been to determine the eligibility by reference to the date of interview and there are innumerable cases wherein such candidates have been seeking employment as were not eligible on the date of making the application or the last date appointed for receipt of the applications but were in the process of acquiring eligibility qualifications and did acquire the same by the time they were called for and appeared at the interview. Several such persons have been appointed but no one has challenged their appointments and they have continued to be in public employment. Such a loose practice, though prevalent, cannot be allowed to be continued and must be treated to have been out to an end. .. . . . . . . . .In our opinion the authorities of the State should be tied down to the principles governing
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the cut-off date for testing the eligibility qualifications on the principles deducible from the decided cases. . . . . . . . . ." (14) A reference was also made to the observations of the Rajasthan High Court in Pema Ram's case (1982 Lab IC 1291) (supra) that equality of opportunity in the matter of employment postulates that every person who is eligible for appointment to a particular post at the time of appointment should be afforded an opportunity to submit his application so that he may be considered for the purpose of appointment. This observation was relied upon for the contention that since the petitioner was eligible on the last date for submission of application, he should be permitted to take up the entrance examination in question. I am not inclined to entertain this contention as it would make the eligibility criteria fixed in the Prospectus otiose. (15) To the petitioner's ultimate appeal that no harm will be caused if the petitioner and those like him are permitted to appear at the entrance cost in question, the simple reply would be that it would be a direction to the authorities to ignore the cut-off date fixed by them in the Prospectus and such a direction will amount to directing them to act in breach of the provisions contained in the Prospectus. I am afraid, a direction of this nature ought not to and cannot be issued to the authorities. (16) In the aforesaid view of the matter, the writ application fails and is hereby dismissed.Application dismissed.