Referred to Larger Bench I: The Rules of the Game Principle

In Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation v. Rajendra Bhimrao, (2001) 10 SCC 51 (“Rajendra Bhimrao”) a two-judge Bench of the SC [Babu and Raju JJ.] held that “the rules of the game meaning thereby, that the criteria for selection cannot be altered by the authorities concerned in the middle or after the process of selection has commenced.” In K. Manjusree v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (2008) 3 SCC 512 (“Manjusree”) the case facts were “much more serious”. The “rules of the game” were not merely changed after the process of selection had commenced. They were changed, in fact, after the “game had been played” and the “results of the game were being awaited.” A three-judge Bench of the Court [Balakrishnan, Raveendran and Panchal JJ.] held therefore that such practices were both “unacceptable” and “impermissible”. In a decision of the SC, delivered nearly two years ago on 20.3.2013, in the matter of Tej Prakash Pathak v. Rajasthan High Court, (2013) 4 SCC 540 (“Tej Prakash”) it has been noticed that “statements” like the ones made in Rajendra Bhimrao and Manjusree have “petrified into a rule of law in the context of employment under the State or its instrumentalities.” Whether or not that principal of law is “immutable”  – has been put to question, in essence, in Tej Prakash.

The brief facts of the case were these: The Respondent High Court had sought to recruit 13 Translators. Under the Rajasthan High Court Staff Service Rules, 2002 (“Rules”) eligible candidates are required to appear for a Written Examination consisting of two papers of translation from English to Hindi and vice versa, carrying 100 marks each followed by a Personal Interview for 50 marks. In the instant case – after the examination was conducted, the Chief Justice ordered that the examination be treated as a Competitive Examination and only those candidates who secured a minimum of 75% marks be selected to fill up the posts in question. In view of the decision of the Chief Justice, only three candidates were found suitable for appointment. The unsuccessful candidates challenged the selection process on the ground that the decision of the Chief Justice to select only those candidates who secured a minimum of 75% marks would amount to “changing the rules of the game after the game is played”. Their Writ Petition was however dismissed.

On appeal before the SC, it was held in Tej Prakash that, “Changing the ‘rules of game’ either midstream or after the game is played is an aspect of retrospective law making power;” It was immediately recognized that, “If the principle of Manjusree’s case is applied strictly to the present case, the Respondent High Court is bound to recruit 13 of the ‘best’ candidates out of the 21 who applied irrespective of their performance in the examination held.” However, the 3-judge Bench of the Court [Lodha, Chelameswar and Lokur JJ.] considered that, “application of the principle as laid down in Manjusree case without any further scrutiny would not be in the larger public interest or the goal of establishing an efficient administrative machinery.” In view of the same and the fact that some crucial decisions were not brought to the notice of their Lordships in Manjusree – Tej Prakash has now been referred to a Larger Bench, thus. In due course, the question shall arise before it whether the “rules of the game” can be changed, after the selection process has commenced/concluded, to maintain higher standards/quality of appointment.