RTI protects the right to inspect one’s own answer sheet: Central Information Commision

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The issue under consideration involves Larger Public Interest affecting the fate of all the students who wish to obtain information regarding their answer sheet and marks obtained by them which would understandably have a bearing on their future career prospects which in turn would ostensibly affect their right to life and livelihood. Hence allowing inspection of their own answer sheet to the students ought to be allowed as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. – Central Information Commission

Bimal Julka

New Delhi: Central Information Commission on Monday (19 June 2018) issued a path-breaking order instructing in categorical terms that the information seeker should possess the right to inspect the documents as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and as per the Supreme Court dicta (in the judgement of CBSE and Anr. v. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors. SLP(C) NO. 7526/2009.

The above order, passed by Central information Commissioner Bimal Julka, has come in response to an RTI application to seek information on five points regarding Gender Champions nominated or appointed by the University of Delhi in compliance of letter of 3 August 2016 sent by Secretary, UGC to Vice Chancellor, Delhi University and UGC (Promotion in Equity in Higher Education Institutions) Regulations, 2012, answer scripts for his Semester IV Examinations of L.L.B, name of the Ombudsman appointed or nominated by JNU in accordance with the UGC (Grievance Redressal Regulations, 2012) and other related issues.

The Commission observed that essentially the issue required to be decided in the present instance was whether inspection of answer scripts could be allowed to the Appellant “in his own case”. During the hearing, the Respondent (CPIO, University of Delhi) referred to the decision of the High Court of Delhi in the matter of University of Delhi vs. Abner Ignity W.P. (C) 1873/2016 (10 August 2017) and the matter of ICSI Vs. Paras Jain; SLP (C) No. 12692/2014 which was pending adjudication before the Supreme Court. The Respondent also apprehended that allowing inspection of files would render their own mechanism of providing certified copy of answer scripts as per the fee prescribed in their regulations as meaningless since the candidates would certainly opt for inspection of records as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005/ RTI Rules, 2012. Furthermore, it was also apprehended that allowing inspection of records would make the process cumbersome since they would be required to maintain two separate mechanism i.e., one for providing hard copy as per their own regulation and another for inspection of answer sheet as per the RTI Act, 2005 and that the candidates could misuse the inspection process to take digital images of their answer scripts.
On being queried by the Commission, on whether the issue regarding providing inspection of answer sheet under RTI Act, 2005 was also pending adjudication before the Courts, the Respondent “feigned ignorance” and re-iterated that providing inspection of answer sheet would render their existing mechanism of providing hard copies as per their existing guidelines redundant.

The Commission underscored the definition of right to information under Section 2(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 by tgging it with the order:

Definition of “right to information” under the Act

“ (j) right to information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to
(i) Inspection of work, documents, records”

The Commission observed that the Supreme Court in the matter of CBSE and Anr. v. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors. SLP(C) NO. 7526/2009 observed that every examinee will have the right to access his evaluated answer-books, by either inspecting them or taking their certified copies ,unless the same was exempted under Section 8 (1) (e) of the RTI Act, 2005.

The CIC order points out that the issue pending adjudication before the Supreme Court of India in the matter of ICSI vs. Paras Jain SLP (No) 12692/2014 was essentially pertaining to payment of charges as prescribed under the Act or as per the rules framed by the concerned institution. The issue of allowing inspection of answer sheet, without availing their copies is an entirely different matter. The provisions of Rule 4 of the RTI Rules, 2012 provide for stipulating the fee for furnishing information as per which different fee is levied for obtaining hard copy of a document/ record vis a vis the fee charged for seeking inspection of records.

The Commission also felt that the issue under consideration involved Larger Public Interest affecting the fate of all the students who wish to obtain information regarding their answer sheet and marks obtained by them which would understandably have a bearing on their future career prospects which in turn would ostensibly affect their right to life and livelihood. Hence allowing inspection of their own answer sheet to the students ought to be allowed as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.

The CIC order also says that the contention of the Respondent that allowing inspection of answer sheet would cause hardship to the public authority in terms of maintaining two parallel systems for providing information, holds no merit in view of the fact that timely access to information is the essence of the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and denial of information on such grounds could prejudice a student’s future career prospects and right to his/ her livelihood.

The CIC order further cites the landmark judgement of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India in Olga Tellis and Ors. vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation 1985 SCR Supl. (2) 51 on 10 July 1985. While recognising right to livelihood as being facet of the right to life enshrined under Article 21, the Constitution Bench of the apex court held as under:

“Upon that assumption, the question which we have to consider is whether the right to life includes the right to livelihood. We see only one answer to that question, namely, that it does. The sweep of the right to life conferred by Article 21 is wide and far reaching. It does not mean merely that life cannot be extinguished or taken away as, for example, by the imposition and execution of the death sentence, except according to procedure established by law. That is but one aspect of the right to life. An equally important facet of that right is the right to livelihood because, no person can live without the means of living, that is, the means of livelihood. If the right to livelihood is not treated as a part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person his right to life would be to deprive him of his means of livelihood to the point of abrogation. Such deprivation would not only denude the life of its effective content and meaningfulness but it would make life impossible to live. And yet, such deprivation would not have tobe in accordance with the procedure established by law, if the right to livelihood is not regarded as a part of the right to life. That, which alone makes it possible to live, leave aside what makes life livable, must be deemed to be an integral component of the right to life. Deprive a person of his right to livelihood and you shall have deprived him of his life.”

As regards providing timely response to the information seeker, the Commission referred to the decision of the Delhi High Court in Mujibur Rehman vs Central Information Commission (W.P. (C) 3845/2007)(Dated 28 April, 2009) wherein it had been held as under:

“14…….The court cannot be unmindful of the circumstances under which the Act was framed, and brought into force. It seeks to foster an “openness culture” among state agencies, and a wider section of “public authorities” whose actions have a significant or lasting impact on the people and their lives. Information seekers are to be furnished what they ask for, unless the Act prohibits disclosure; they are not to be driven away through sheer inaction or filibustering tactics of the public authorities or their officers. It is to ensure these ends that time limits have been prescribed, in absolute terms, as well as penalty provisions. These are meant to ensure a culture of information disclosure so necessary for a robust and functioning democracy.”

Therefore, the CIC order says, “information seeker should possess the right to inspect the documents as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 as per the dicta of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the judgement of CBSE and Anr. v. Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors. SLP(C) NO. 7526/2009.

Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties, the Commission instructs the Respondent to allow inspection of his own answer sheet to the Appellant as sought in the RTI application within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.”

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