Over the last five decades, several decisions have dealt with the fundamental issue of when the process of an examination can stand vitiated. Essentially, the answer to the issue turns upon whether the irregularities in the process have taken place at a systemic level so as to vitiate the sanctity of the process. There are cases which border upon or cross-over into the domain of fraud as a result of which the credibility and legitimacy of the process is denuded. This constitutes one end of the spectrum. The authority conducting the examination or convening the selection process comes to the conclusion that as a result of supervening event or circumstances, the process has lost its legitimacy, leaving no option but to cancel it in its entirety. Where a recourse to unfair means has taken place on a systemic scale, it may be difficult to segregate the tainted from the untainted participants in the process. At the other end of the spectrum, some of the participants in the process who appear at the examination or selection test are guilty of irregularities. In such a case, it may well be possible to segregate persons who are guilty of wrong-doing from others who have adhered to the rules and to exclude the former from the process. In such a case, those who are innocent of wrong-doing should not pay a price for those who are actually found to be involved in irregularities. By segregating the wrong-doers, the selection of the untainted candidates can be allowed to pass muster by taking the selection process to its logical conclusion.
Over four decades ago, in Bihar School Examination Board v. Subhas Chandra Sinha, (1970) 1 SCC 648 a Three-Judge Bench of this Court dealt with a case when results spoke for themselves: whereas at other centers the average of successful candidates was 50%, at one particular center the percentage of successful candidates ranged from 70% to 100%. Chief Justice, M. Hidayatullah observed, “This is not a case of any particular individual who is being charged with adoption of unfair means but of the conduct of all the examinees or at least a vast majority of them at a particular center. It is not a question of charging any one individually with unfair means but to condemn the examination as ineffective for the purpose it was held.”
– Hon’ble Justice Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Sachin Kumar v. DSSSB, [Civil Appeal Nos. 639-640 of 2021].