Limits of Discretion in Civil Service Examination Policy

Delve into the intricate legal analysis provided by the court regarding the exercise of discretion by the Civil Service Commission in the context of the Civil Service Examination policy. The case delves into the boundaries of the Commission’s authority to grant relief, considering the impact of the pandemic on aspirants seeking additional attempts. Explore the complexities of policy decisions and precedent cases in balancing fairness and equity in the examination process.


  • The Civil Services Examination is conducted annually by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in three stages – preliminary, mains, and personality test.
  • The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions published Gazette Notification on 12th February, 2020 regarding the rules for the Civil Services Examination 2020.
  • The Rules 2020 contain provisions regarding the eligibility criteria, including the number of attempts and age limits for candidates.
  • A decision was made on 5th February, 2021 to grant an ex-gratia, one-time relaxation to last attempt candidates who appeared in Examination 2020 and would reach age bar for CSE 2021.
  • The relaxation was extended to a specific number of candidates based on the combined effect of last attempt candidates who appeared and those who did not.
  • The percentage of candidates requiring relaxation for CSE 2021 in relation to the total number of candidates enrolled for Examination 2020 was also highlighted.
  • One-time restricted relaxation agreed upon by the Respondent for CSE 2021
  • Relaxation limited to candidates who appeared in CSE 2020 as their last attempt and are not age-barred for CSE 2021
  • No relaxation for candidates who have not exhausted their attempts or are age-barred for CSE 2021
  • Conditions not creating any vested or precedent rights for future cases

Also Read: Analysis of Consent Orders and Appellants’ Rights


  • Petitioners argue that the sudden and strict lockdown in March 2020 due to the pandemic caused significant disruption and difficulties for aspirants preparing for Examination 2020.
  • Candidates working in essential services were not able to seek leave or exemption from duty due to the nature of their services and the applicable acts.
  • The petitioners contend that the candidates who appeared in Examination 2020 were affected by the pandemic and faced impediments in their preparation.
  • They seek one-time relaxation granting an additional attempt to all candidates who appeared in Examination 2020, regardless of having exhausted attempts or crossed the upper age limit.
  • Denial of an additional attempt would lead to discrimination against candidates who faced hurdles due to the pandemic.
  • The petitioners argue that they were deprived of basic facilities for preparation due to the pandemic, and essential service providers deserve one more attempt.
  • They point to past precedents of granting extra attempts for UPSC Civil Services Examination aspirants facing hardships.
  • It is argued that the classification made by the respondent to grant relaxation only to last attemptees and not to others is irrational.
  • The submission that the discretion must be exercised by the respondent as a matter of policy in the earlier selections lacks substance.
  • Policy decisions taken by the executive in the past depend on the specific facts and circumstances at that time.
  • Changes in upper age limits and number of attempts in different years are not unprecedented and can vary based on the situation.
  • The respondents allowed an additional attempt in the Civil Service Examination 2015 for candidates who appeared in CSE 2011.
  • The exercise of discretion by the 1st respondent in the present case must be evaluated based on the specific circumstances at hand.

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  • Candidates must have attained the age of 21 years and not have attained the age of 32 years on August 1, 2020.
  • Upper age limit relaxable for SC/ST, OBC, Defence Services Personnel, ex-servicemen, ECOs/SSCOs, and Persons with Benchmark Disabilities.
  • Candidates belonging to multiple categories eligible for cumulative age relaxation.
  • Candidates permitted six attempts at the examination, with exceptions for SC/ST and OBC candidates.
  • The analysis delves into the various arguments presented by both the petitioners and the respondents in the context of the Civil Services Examination (CSE) 2020.
  • The discussion highlights the age limitations and attempts allowed under the Rules 2020 for the CSE, emphasizing the lack of provision for discretionary relaxation in age or attempts by the respondent.
  • It mentions the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the examination schedule and the subsequent decisions taken by the Commission in response to the crisis.
  • The analysis touches upon the plea for additional attempts due to the pandemic-induced hardships faced by candidates, addressing the issue of discrimination in granting such relief only to last attemptees.
  • Policy decisions, judicial review boundaries, and precedent cases are also mentioned in the context of the petitioners’ demands.
  • Ultimately, the analysis underscores the complexity of balancing the interests of the candidates, the requirements of the examination process, and the principles of fairness and equity in the decision-making process.
  • Petitioners are not entitled to claim assistance from the 1st respondent for relaxation in the Civil Service Examination 2021
  • The excuse of facing constraints due to Covid-19 pandemic is considered a lame reason for seeking an additional attempt in the examination
  • The Court notes that candidates have appeared in similar patterns of examinations since 2015, implying no valid reason for additional attempts in 2021
  • The Court declines to set a precedent by showing indulgence to candidates who faced difficulties in the 2020 examinations during the pandemic
  • The decision does not prevent the 1st respondent or the executive from exercising discretion in addressing future difficulties

Also Read: Interpretation of Limitation Period for Filing Objections under Arbitration Act


  • Petition dismissed and decision taken expediously
  • All writ petitioners/intervenors appeared in preliminary exam in 74 cities
  • Consent order granted to prospective candidates
  • Pending applications disposed of

Case Title: RACHNA Vs. UNION OF INDIA (2021 INSC 116)

Case Number: W.P.(C) No.-001410 / 2020

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