Answer Sheet also under the purview of Right to Information | Kalpeshkumar L Gupta

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Answer Sheet also under the purview of Right to Information
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Answer Sheet also under the purview of Right to Information

Central Board of Secondary Education & Others V/s. Aditya Bandopadhya & Others Civil Appeal No. 6454 of 2011, Decided on 9-08-2011

A student named Aditya Bandopadhyay took the exam of CBSE Board. When he got the mark sheet he was disappointed with his marks. He thought that he had done well in the examination but his answer sheets were not properly valued and that improper valuation had resulted in low marks. Therefore he made an application for inspection and re-valuation of his answer books. CBSE rejected the said request by letter dated 12-07-2008 and stated following reasons for the rejections.

(i)                 The information sought was exempted under Section 8(1)(e) of RTI Act since CBSE shared fiduciary relationship with its evaluators and maintain confidentiality of both manner and method of evaluation.
(ii)               The Examinations Bye-laws of the Board provided that no candidate shall claim or is entitled to re-valuation of his answers or disclosure or inspection of answer book(s) or other documents.
(iii)             The larger does not warrant the disclosure of such information sought.
(iv)             The Central Information Commission, by its order dated 23-04-2007 in appeal no. ICPB/A-3/CIC/2006 dated 10-02-2006 had ruled out such disclosure.”

Feeling aggrieved the respondent filed Writ Petition No. 18189(W)/2008 before the Calcutta High Court and sought the following reliefs

(a)    For a declaration that the action of CBSE in excluding the provision of re-valuation of answer sheets, in regard to the examinations held by it was illegal, unreasonable and violative of the provisions of the Constitution of India
(b)   For a direction to CBSE to appoint an independent examiner for re-valuating his answer books and issue a fresh marks card on the basis of re-valuation.
(c)    For a direction to CBSE to produce his answer books in regard to the 2008 Secondary School Examination so that they could be properly reviewed and fresh marks card can be issued with re-valuation marks
(d)   For quashing the communication of CBSE dated 12-07-2008 and for a direction to produce the answer books into court for inspection by the first respondent. The respondent contended that section 8(1)(e) of Right to Information Act, 2005 relied upon by CBSE was not applicable and relied upon the provisions of the RTI Act to claim compensation.

CBSE submitted that 12 to 13 lakhs candidates from about 9000 affiliated schools across the country appear in class X and class XII examinations conducted by it and this generates as many as 60 to 65 lakhs of answer books that as per Examination Bye-law No.62, it maintains the answer books only for a period of three months after which they are disposed of. It was submitted that if candidates were to be permitted to seek re-evaluation of answer books or inspection thereof, it will create confusion and chaos, subjecting its elaborate system of examinations to delay and disarray. It was stated that apart from class X and class XII examinations, CBSE also conducts several other examinations (including the All India Pre-Medical Test, All India Engineering Entrance Examination and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya’s Selection Test). If CBSE was required to re-evaluate the answer-books or grant inspection of answer-books or grant certified copies thereof, it would interfere with its effective and efficient functioning, and will also require huge additional staff and infrastructure. It was submitted that the entire examination system and evaluation by CBSE is done in a scientific and systemic manner designed to ensure and safeguard the high academic standards and at each level utmost care was taken to achieve the object of excellence, keeping in view the interests of the students.

A Division Bench of the High Court heard and disposed the said writ petition along with the connected writ petitions (relied byWest Bengal Board of Secondary Education and others) by a common judgment dated 5-02-2009. The High Court held that the evaluated answer books of an examinee writing a public examination conducted by statutory bodies like CBSE or any University or Board of Secondary Education, being a ‘document, manuscript record and opinion’ fell within the definition of “Information” as defined in section 2(f) of the RTI Act. It held that the provisions of the RTI Act should be interpreted in a manner which would lead towards dissemination of information rather than withholding the same and in view of the right to information, the examining bodies were bound to provide inspection of evaluated answer books to the examinees. Consequently  it directed CBSE to grant inspection of the answer books to the examinee who sought information. The High Court however rejected the prayer made by the examinee for re-valuation of the answer sheets as that was not a relief that was available under RTI Act. RTI Act only provided a right to access information but not for any consequential reliefs. Feeling aggrieved by the direction to grant inspection, CBSE has filed this appeal by special leave.

The Supreme Court upheld the decision of High Court and decided that the Answer Books fall in the definition of Information and thus it should be disclosed against the request by the applicant further emphasizing that Board does not have any fiduciary relationship with the evaluator of answer books.

The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information under clause (b) of section 4(1) of the Act which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption. But in regard to other information,(that is information other than those enumerated in section 4(1)(b) and (c) of the Act), equal importance and emphasis are given to other public interests (like confidentiality of sensitive information, fidelity and fiduciary relationships, efficient operation of governments, etc.).

Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and eradication of corruption) would be counter-productive as it will adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with the non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information. The Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquility and harmony among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty. The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of a public authorities prioritising ‘information furnishing’, at the cost of their normal and regular duties.