Delhi High Court Directs AFMS Director to Admit 2023 Batch Candidates in 2024 Academic Year

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Court remarked that in cases where authorities unjustly and unlawfully refuse admission to a candidate, and the academic term for which admission was sought has concluded, the candidate ought to be granted admission in the subsequent academic year

In a recent ruling, the Delhi High Court directed the Directorate General of Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) to facilitate admissions for candidates of the 2023 batch into the AFMS institutions for the 2024 academic year. Court noted that the authorities erred in denying admission to the aggrieved students by taking an overly technical approach, despite the students deserving admission based on merit. 

The bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher and Justice Amit Bansal held, “The authorities were at fault in denying admissions to the appellants by adopting a hyper-technical approach, even though, on merits, the appellants ought to have been granted admission”. 

The judgment came in an appeal against the order of the single judge bench vide which the action of the respondents in rejecting the candidature of the appellants on the ground of submission of sponsorship certificate without office seal was upheld and they were denied admission ignoring their merit.

According to a notification from March 2013, AFMS seats were allocated based on five priorities, ranging from AFMS officers to civilian candidates. Eligible candidates were required to register on the MCC website and participate in AFMS counseling according to their priority.

The appellants, medical graduates employed in various government organizations, took the NEET-PG exam on 5th March 2023, scored above the cutoff, and registered for AFMS counseling. As Priority III candidates, they obtained employer permissions and submitted sponsorship certificates. However, their names were not included in the Priority III merit list published on 10th August 2023, and their grievances to the Directorate General of AFMS went unanswered. Consequently, the appellants and similarly situated candidates filed a writ petition to quash the merit list. 

The single judge bench dismissed the writ petition, ruling that it was mandatory for the sponsorship certificates to have the rubber stamp and official seal of the sponsoring authority.

The division bench, observing that 51 seats were vacant, ordered that the appellants be allowed to participate in the counseling for these seats. It clarified that the appellants' sponsorship certificates would be treated as provisional, with one week granted to furnish proper certificates in the prescribed format. If the sponsoring authority lacked an official seal, an affidavit from the authority was to accompany the certificate.

In the court's view, based on the aforementioned clauses of the Information Bulletin, the requirement of an official seal on the sponsorship certificate was not mandatory. Although the format of the sponsorship certificate in Appendix A included an official seal and rubber stamp of the sponsoring authority, there was no indication that this requirement was obligatory. “The intent behind the requirement of having an office seal is to ensure the genuineness of the sponsorship certificate. If the respondents had any doubts with regard to the genuineness or authenticity of the sponsorship certificate, it was within their domain to contact the concerned department to verify the said certificate”, the court observed. 

If the respondents intended the official seal to be mandatory, they should have explicitly stated so in the Information Bulletin, specifying that a sponsorship certificate without the seal would not be accepted. “The fixing of the official seal on the sponsorship certificate was in the nature of a formality, especially when the said certificate was duly signed and stamped by the competent authority”, the court added. 

The court opined that the Priority-III category pertained to members and medical officers employed by governmental institutions, and the respondents required a sponsorship certificate from the respective government department. Once such a certificate was provided by the department, certifying the candidate's employment and sponsorship, there should not have been any further mandatory requirement for the certificate to bear the department's official seal, court said.

Furthermore, court noted that if the government believed an official seal was mandatory and its absence would lead to rejection, they should have given candidates an opportunity to rectify this defect. The appellants learned their candidature had been rejected due to the alleged deficiency in their sponsorship certificates only when the merit list was released on August 10, 2023, as their names were not included. The requirement for an official seal on the sponsorship certificate existed in previous years, but the government did not insist on it. Therefore, the appellants reasonably believed it was not a mandatory requirement.

The court considered the requirement for an official seal on the sponsorship certificate to be a formality, especially when the certificate was duly signed and stamped by the competent authority. The single judge in the impugned judgment noted that the requirement for an official seal was a technical one. The court opined that the strict rule of scrutiny regarding the non-compliance was harsh. 

In Dolly Chhanda (supra), the Apex Court held that where authorities have denied admission to a candidate on wholly unjust and illegal grounds, and the academic year, for which the admission was denied, was already over, the candidate should be given admission in the next academic year”, the court opined. 

Therefore, the court did not accept the government's assertion that an official seal was a mandatory requirement. The government did not claim that the sponsorship certificates submitted by the appellants were fabricated or forged, or that the appellants were ineligible for a seat in the Priority-III category. Thus, the decision to reject the appellants' claims on this ground was arbitrary, unjust, and irrational, court held.

Accordingly, the court allowed the appeal and overturned the impugned judgment. 

The LPA was filed and argued by Mr. Shubham Singh, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India and Partner at Inca Law Partners.

Case Title: Dr Chayan Jain & Ors. v Union Of India & Ors. (2024:DHC:4565-DB)