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Plea of Bias Cannot Be Assumed After Participating In Selection Process With Knowledge Of Panel Composition: Hon’ble SC [READ JUDGMENT]

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Mohd. Mustafa v Union of India held that the appellant, being an IPS officer was aware of the presence of the incumbent DGP in the selection process. Therefore, he can’t raise this plea of bias after participating in the process

By: Likivi K Jakhalu, Campus Law Centre, Delhi University

In this case, the appellant challenged the appointment of the DGP, arguing that the appointment procedure was tainted by the incumbent DGP’s presence on the Empanelment Committee as he had professional ties to one of the Panel members.

The Central Administrative Tribunal set aside the order on the ground that preparation of the panel for selection of DGP of the State of Punjab was in contravention of a judgment of this Court in Prakash Singh v. Union of India, apart from others.   

The High Court agreed with the Tribunal that the Appellant failed to make out a case of bias. The High Court set aside the judgment of the Tribunal and upheld the selection and appointment of Respondent as DGP.

A bench of the Hon’ble Apex Court comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna, and B.R. Gavai noted that including the incumbent DGP on the Empanelment Committee was a legal requirement under directions issued in the Prakash Singh case.

According to the Hon’ble Apex Court, it is a trite law that Courts cannot intervene in expert body selections by reassessing the comparative merits of candidates when exercising their power under judicial review.

It was added that “Relevant, germane, and valid considerations cannot be ignored or overlooked by an executive authority while taking a decision. Interference with selections is limited to decisions vitiated by bias, malafide, and contrary to statutory provisions.

Thus, assessment of the relative merit of the officers under consideration is within the domain of the Empanelment Committee, which is at liberty to adopt its procedure. 

The Hon’ble Apex Court was unimpressed with Appellant’s argument that core policing areas were chosen exclusively to suit the Respondent. In terms of the core policing area, the Appellant did not meet the requirements for inclusion in the panel.

The Hon’ble Apex Court observed that the broad criteria mentioned in Prakash Singh’s case were – seniority, a very good record of service, and a range of experience to head the police force. The Draft Guidelines which have to be scrupulously followed by Empanelment Committees stipulate that a selection should be on the same criteria. Identification of five core policing areas out of a domain of twenty policing areas cannot be said to be an arbitrary exercise of power.

The Tribunal committed an error in holding the decision of the Committee as arbitrary in the absence of reasons. Therefore, the preparation of the panel by the Empanelment Committee cannot be said to be suffering from unreasonableness.

Thus, there was no basis for the conclusion of the Tribunal that the Draft Guidelines are contrary to the directions given by this Court in Prakash Singh’s case.

If the committee is constituted under an administrative order, there can be no difficulty in an officer recusing himself and requesting another officer to be substituted in his place.

According to the Hon’ble Court’s opinion, the ratio in Madan Lal and Others v. State of JammuKashmir and Others would apply to the present case as the Appellant had taken a calculated chance despite the stakes, that too without protest, and then has belatedly raised the plea of bias and prejudice only when he was not recommended.

Hence, the Hon’ble Apex Court upheld the validity of the High Court judgment that set aside the Central Administrative Tribunal’s ruling that the appointment of the DGP should be set aside.

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