Grace marks cannot be used to 'switch over' from Reserved category to General category: Top Court

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The Supreme Court recently held that a grace marks policy cannot be utilized by a person, who has passed in his own category, and grace marks are being used to enable him to move to the general category.

A bench of Justices MR Shah and BV Nagarathna set aside an order whereby the Union of India was directed to extend the grace marks in the subject of 'Other Taxes' by treating one Mukesh Kumar Meena, a reserved category candidate, as a person belonging to the General category. 

For the benefit of those candidates, who marginally failed to secure minimum marks/percentage irrespective of their category on falling short of passing, up to five marks, the Central Board of Direct Taxes introduced a policy of awarding grace marks in their departmental examinations.

Meena entered in services of the Department of Income Tax being appointed as Lower Division Clerk (LDC) and was promoted to the posts of Tax Assistant, Sr. Tax Assistant and Office Superintendent.

With a view to regulate the departmental examination for Income Tax Inspectors, the competent authority introduced modified rules for Departmental Examination for Income Tax Inspectors – 1998 (“Rules, 1998”).

The said Rules were made applicable for the departmental examination to be held in 1998 and onwards. The departmental examination under the Rules, 1998 consisted of six papers namely viz. Income Tax Law and Assessment, Other Taxes, Book Keeping, Office Procedure, Examination of Accounts and Hindi Test.

A candidate securing minimum 45% marks in five subjects except in Hindi was entitled to be declared as 'pass'. For the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the minimum marks required to qualify for the examination was 40% of the maximum marks.

Meena secured more than 45% marks in each subject except the subject "Other Taxes". Claiming that he was entitled for grace marks in the subject of “Other Taxes”, but the same was not given to him as he was treated qualified in the category of Scheduled Tribes, Meena approached the Central Administrative Tribunal, Jodhpur Bench.

He argued before the CAT that though he belongs to the ST category and passed the examination with relaxed standards of marks, he actually got 43 marks in one of the subjects, and had he been given two grace marks in the “Other Taxes” paper in the departmental examination, he would have been declared passed in 2007 itself on his own merit and would have been eligible to get the benefit of promotion against general vacancies.

CAT observed that the CBDT circular providing grace marks cannot be interpreted to mean that a person, who has passed in his own category can be given further grace marks to enable him to move in the general category on his own merit.

Thereafter, the Rajasthan High Court set aside this view in the appeal filed by Meena while relying on Rajesh Kumar Daria Vs. Rajasthan Public Service Commission and Ors.

The Supreme Court held that the benefit of grace marks was not to allow the reserved category candidate to switch over to the general category.

"Once the respondent – original applicant passed in his own category, there was no question of allowing/granting him any further grace marks", observed the top court.

Court noted that only in a case where any candidate belonging to any category was marginally failing to pass the examination, he was to be allowed the grace marks so as to allow him to obtain the minimum passing marks required and that too by allowing up to five grace marks. 

In view of the same, the top court held that the High Court had not at all appreciated in its true spirit the object and purpose of grace marks policy introduced by CBDT.

"It was never meant for a person, who has passed in his own category and still to allow him further grace marks to enable him to move to the general category. That was not the object and purpose of the grace marks policy....", said the Court while allowing the appeal filed by Union of India and Others and quashing the High Court's judgment.

Case Title: Union of India and Ors. vs Mukesh Kumar Meena