11 Sep 2010

No interference with Expert decisions: Supreme Court

In a recent decision [Basavaiah v. H.L. Ramesh] the Supreme Court has declared that the courts are not entitled to sit in judgment over the opinion of the experts in their respective fields. Reflecting upon consistent judicial thought in this regard, the Court reversed the decision of the High Court to hold that the courts should exercise restraint when interfering with the finding of the experts. 

The Bench, taking note of the earlier decisions on the proposition, observed inter alia as under;

28. A similar controversy arose about 45 years ago regarding appointment of Anniah Gowda to the post of Research Reader in English in the Central College, Bangalore, in the case of The University of Mysore and Anr. v. C.D. Govinda Rao and Anr. AIR 1965 SC 491, in which the Constitution Bench unanimously held that normally the Courts should be slow to interfere with the opinions expressed by the experts particularly in a case when there is no allegation of mala fides against the experts who had constituted the Selection Board. The court further observed that it would normally be wise and safe for the courts to leave the decisions of academic matters to the experts who are more familiar with the problems they face than the courts generally can be. 
29. We have been called upon to adjudicate the similar matter of the same University almost after half a century. In a judicial system governed by precedents, the judgments delivered by the Constitution Bench and other Benches must be respected and relied on with meticulous care and sincerity. The ratio of the Constitution Bench has not been properly appreciated by the learned judges in the impugned judgment.
30. In Dr. M.C. Gupta & Others v. Dr. Arun Kumar Gupta & Others (1979) 2 SCC 339, somewhat similar controversy arose for adjudication, in which the State Public Service Commission invited applications for two posts of Professors of Medicine in the State Medical Colleges. The two appellants as well as respondent nos.1, 2 and 3 applied for the said post. Appellant no.1 had teaching experience of about 6 years and 6 months as a Lecturer in Cardiology in the department of medicine and about 3 years and 2 months as Reader in Medicine in S. N. Medical College, Agra. Since there was no separate Department of Cardiology in that College, Cardiology formed part of general medicine and as such he was required to teach general medicine to undergraduate students and to some post-graduate students in addition to Cardiology. Similarly, appellant no.2 had one year’s experience as postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Department of Medicine, State University of New York, Buffalo, one year’s teaching experience as Lecturer while posted as a Pool Officer and 15 months’ teaching experience as post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Medicine in G.S.V.M. Medical College, Kanpur and about 4 years’ and 6 months’ teaching experience as Assistant Professor of Medicine, State University of New York, Buffalo. The cardiology is a part of medicine and the teaching experience acquired while holding the post of Lecturer in Cardiology, was teaching experience in a subject which substantially formed part of general medicine and over and above the same. The Commission was amply justified in reaching to the conclusion that he had the requisite teaching experience. The High Court was, therefore, in error in quashing his selection of the appellant in this case.
31. The teaching experience of foreign teaching institutions can be taken into consideration if it is from the recognized and institution of repute. It cannot be said that the State University of New York at Buffalo, where appellant no.2 served as an Assistant Professor would not be an institution of repute. The experts aiding and advising the Commission must be quite aware of institutions in which the teaching experience was acquired by him and this one is a reputed University.
32. According to the experts of the Selection Board, both the appellants had requisite qualification and were eligible for appointment. If they were selected by the Commission and appointed by the Government, no fault can be found in the same. The High Court interfered and set aside the selections made by the experts committee. This Court while setting aside the judgment of the High Court reminded the High Court that it would normally be prudent and safe for the courts to leave the decision of academic matters to experts. The Court observed as under:
“7. ….When selection is made by the Commission aided and advised by experts having technical experience and high academic qualifications in the specialist field, probing teaching research experience in technical subjects, the Courts should be slow to interfere with the opinion expressed by experts unless there are allegations of mala fides against them. It would normally be prudent and safe for the Courts to leave the decision of academic matters to experts who are more familiar with the problems they face than the Courts generally can be…” 
33. In Dr. J. P. Kulshrestha Others v. Chancellor, Allahabad University & Others (1980) 3 SCC 418, the court observed that the court should not substitute its judgment for that of academicians:
“17. Rulings of this Court were cited before us to hammer home the point that the court should not substitute its judgment for that of academicians when the dispute relates to educational affairs. While there is no absolute ban, it is a rule of prudence that courts should hesitate to dislodge decisions of academic bodies. … … …”
34. In Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education & Another v. Paritosh Bhupeshkumar Sheth & Others (1984) 4 SCC 27, the court observed thus:
“29. … As has been repeatedly pointed out by this Court, the Court should be extremely reluctant to substitute its own views as to what is wise, prudent and proper in relation to academic matters in preference to those formulated by professional men possessing technical expertise and rich experience of actual day-to-day working of educational institutions and the departments controlling them. .. … …”
35. In Neelima Misra v. Harinder Kaur Paintal & Others (1990) 2 SCC 746, the court relied on the judgment in University of Mysore (supra) and observed that in the matter of appointments in the academic field, the court generally does not interfere. The court further observed that the High Court should show due regard to the opinion expressed by the experts constituting the Selection Committee and its recommendation on which the Chancellor had acted. 
36. In Bhushan Uttam Khare v. Dean, B.J. Medical  College & Others (1992) 2 SCC 220, the court placed reliance on the Constitution Bench decision in University of Mysore (supra) and reiterated the same legal position and observed as under:
“8. … the Court should normally be very slow to pass orders in its jurisdiction because matters falling within the jurisdiction of educational authorities should normally be left to their decision and the Court should interfere with them only when it thinks it must do so in the interest of justice." 
37. In Dalpat Abasaheb Solunke & Others v. Dr. B.S. Mahajan & Others (1990) 1 SCC 305, the court in some what similar matter observed thus:
“… … …It is needless to emphasise that it is not the function of the court to hear appeals over the decisions of the Selection Committees and to scrutinize the relative merits of the candidates. Whether a candidate is fit for a particular post or not has to be decided by the duly constituted Selection Committee which has the expertise on the subject. The court has no such expertise. The decision of the Selection Committee can be interfered with only on limited grounds, such as illegality or patent material irregularity in the constitution of the Committee or its procedure vitiating the selection, or proved mala fides affecting the selection etc. It is not disputed that in the present case the University had constituted the Committee in due compliance with the relevant statutes. The Committee consisted of experts and it selected the candidates after going through all the relevant material before it. In sitting in appeal over the selection so made and in setting it aside on the ground of the so called comparative merits of the candidates as assessed by the court, the High Court went wrong and exceeded its jurisdiction.” 
38. The Chancellor & Another etc. v. Dr. Bijayananda Kar & Others (1994) 1 SCC 169, the court observed thus: 
“9. This Court has repeatedly held that the decisions of the academic authorities should not ordinarily be interfered with by the courts. Whether a candidate fulfils the requisite qualifications or not is a matter which should be entirely left to be decided by the academic bodies and the concerned selection committees which invariably consist of experts on the subjects relevant to the selection….”
39. In Chairman J&K State Board of Education v. Feyaz Ahmed Malik & Others (2000) 3 SCC 59, the court while stressing on the importance of the functions of the expert body observed that the expert body consisted of persons coming from different walks of life who were engaged in or interested in the field of education and had wide experience and were entrusted with the duty of maintaining higher standards of education. The decision of such an expert body should be given due weightage by courts.
40. In Dental Council of India v. Subharti K.K.B. Charitable Trust & Another (2001) 5 SCC 486, the court reminded the High Courts that the court’s jurisdiction to interfere with the discretion exercised by the expert body is extremely limited. 
41. In Medical Council of India v. Sarang & Others (2001) 8 SCC 427, the court again reiterated the legal principle that the court should not normally interfere or interpret the rules and should instead leave the matter to the experts in the field. 
42. In B.C. Mylarappa alias Dr. Chikkamylarappa v. Dr. R. Venkatasubbaiah & Others (2008) 14 SCC 306, the court again reiterated legal principles and observed regarding importance of the recommendations made by the expert committees.
43. In Rajbir Singh Dalal (Dr.) v. Chaudhari Devi Lal University, Sirsa & Another (2008) 9 SCC 284, the court reminded that it is not appropriate for the Supreme Court to sit in appeal over the opinion of the experts.
44. In All India Council for Technical Education v. Surinder Kumar Dhawan & Others (2009) 11 SCC 726, again the legal position has been reiterated that it is a rule of prudence that courts should hesitate to dislodge decisions of academic bodies. 
45. We have dealt with the aforesaid judgments to reiterate and reaffirm the legal position that in the academic matters, the courts have a very limited role particularly when no mala fide has been alleged against the experts constituting the selection committee. It would normally be prudent, wholesome and safe for the courts to leave the decisions to the academicians and experts. As a matter of principle, the courts should never make an endeavour to sit in appeal over the decisions of the experts. The courts must realize and appreciate its constraints and limitations in academic matters.
46. In the impugned judgment, the High Court has ignored the consistent legal position. They were expected to abide by the discipline of the precedents of the courts. Consequently, we are constrained to set aside the impugned judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court and restore the judgment of the Single Judge of the High Court.

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