Timely publication of prelims answer key in public interest: Unsuccessful UPSC aspirants to Delhi HC

Seventeen unsuccessful UPSC aspirants on Wednesday asserted in the Delhi High Court that timely publication of the “answer key” of the civil services preliminary examination was in public interest as it will help candidates assess their capabilities.

Justice Chandra Dhari Singh, dealing with the petition filed by the aspirants who appeared for the preliminary examination earlier this year, observed orally it was a “prestigious examination” and advised the petitioners to make a representation to the authorities concerned on the issue.

The court also told the petitioners, who sought quashing of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Preliminary Examination, 2023, that they “cannot be allowed to disturb the entire process”.

The petitioners’ lawyer clarified he was only assailing a June press note issued by the UPSC which said the answer key would be published only after the declaration of the final result, and will not press the prayer challenging the examination process.

During the hearing, Justice Singh said only the “best minds” should be selected for civil services and candidates need to “first analyse” themselves and assess their merit.

“Only the best should be selected. Country requires only the best talented persons…You should first analyse yourselves. Wasting time and parents’ money does not mean you are talented,” the court said.

The UPSC’s counsel said the petition was not maintainable as only the Central Administrative Tribunal has the power to deal with issues concerning recruitment by the Commission.

After hearing the counsel for the parties, the court reserved its order on the maintainability of the plea.

The counsel for the petitioners said there are no means of “assessment” in the system as cut off marks are not disclosed and the answer key is released only after a year when the entire process of recruitment comes to an end.

“There is nothing to hide. (Disclosure) would reduce burden on UPSC and the families (of the unsuccessful candidates),” said the lawyer as he contended that the correct answers should be released soon after the preliminary examination has been held.

“Coaching centres charge thousand of rupees (to provide an answer key). Huge public interest would be served,” he added.

The lawyer for the UPSC said the “integrity of examination process” has to be protected as civil services examinations were “structured” and have to be conducted in a time bound manner.

The petitioners’ lawyer informed the court that even a parliamentary standing committee has favoured timely disclosure of the answer key to the candidates.

“I am advising you to give representation in light of the recommendation … and I am directing them to take a decision,” the court told the lawyer.

Last month, the court had refused to stay the UPSC’s decision inviting applications for Civil Services (Main) Examination, 2023 while dismissing an application by the petitioners.

The petitioners have said they were aggrieved by the “arbitrariness” of the commission in conducting the entire recruitment cycle.

“Not providing to the students the answer key of an exam they have appeared for, not considering the representations of the candidates despite a particular time window being provided for the same, and asking questions, which are disproportionately vague, testing candidates’ ability to answer only on the basis of guesswork, is not only arbitrary but defies all principles of fairness, logic and rationality,” the petition has said.

It said when a competitive exam is conducted, the answer key to the multiple choice questions is prepared in advance so it can be released after the examination has been conducted, thereby giving the candidates a fair idea of evaluation.

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However, in a press note of June 12, the UPSC said: “Marks, cut off marks and answer keys of CS(P) Examination, 2023 will be uploaded on the Commission’s website i.e. https://upsc.gov.in only after the entire process of the Civil Services Examination 2023 is over, that is, after the declaration of final result,” the petition claimed.

The petition said almost all state Public Service Commissions and other authorities like the High Court of Delhi in respect of Delhi Judicial Service Examination, IITs, NLUs and IIMs release the provisional answer key within a week of the conduct of an examination and invite objections from the candidates.

They then release the final answer key by modifying their provisional answer key based on the objections, it added.

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