SC allows disclosure of evaluated answer-sheets to examinee under RTI
In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court allowed disclosure of the answer-sheets to the examinee, under Right to Information (RTI) Act. The bench comprising Hon’ble Mr Justice RV Raveendran and Hon’ble Mr Justice AK Patnaik dismissed the petitions filed by different public authorities and affirmed the judgement of Hon’ble Calcutta High Court allowing the disclosure of answer-sheets. The case was filed by the Central Board of Secondary Education, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, West Bengal Council for Higher Education, University of Calcutta, Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, West Bengal Central School Service Commission and Assam Public Service Commission, challenging the common order and judgement dated 05/02/2009 passed by the division bench of the Calcutta High Court. Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) has filed an intervention application on behalf of the applicants – Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and Join Operation for Social Help (JOSH) on 30.04.2010. Mr Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar, Advocate from HRLN argued the case successfully for MKSS and JOSH. On 14.08.2007, one Mr Pritam Rooz had filed an application under Right to Information Act seeking for copies of his answer-sheets from the Calcutta University. The varsity informed him that as per university policy, the same cannot be disclosed. Rooz then approached the Calcutta High Court. In a detailed order dated 28.03.2008, Hon’ble Justice Mr Sanjib Banerjee allowed the petition filed by Pritam Rooz and directed the University of Calcutta to disclose the answer-sheets. The order was challenged before the division bench of the Hon’ble Calcutta High Court by the University of Calcutta. The CBSE also approached the division bench of the Calcutta High Court against another order of the single bench of thesame court allowing disclosure of the answer-sheet. While dismissing the appeals filed by these institutions, the division bench of the Calcutta High Court vide its common order and judgement dated 05.02.2009 affirmed the decision of the single bench. Against the order dated 05.02.2009, these institutions approached the Supreme Court. Subsequently, various other institutions conducting examinations like Institute of Chartered Accountants in India, Assam Public Service Commission, West Bengal Board of Secondary Education, West Bengal Council for Higher Education, West Bengal Central School Service Commission and Bihar Public Service Commission also joined in and opposed the disclosure of answer-sheets to the examiners. It was contended by the Petitioners that the evaluated answer-sheets are not covered under the definition of the word “information”. Secondly, they argued that the evaluated answer-sheet is kept with the examination-conducting institutions under fiduciary capacity. It was also contended by these institutions that if the disclosure is allowed, the entire system will collapse. However, Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed all these contentions. The bench clarified that the evaluated answer-sheet is covered under the definition of “information”. It also clarified that it is the duty of the Public Authority to allow maximum disclosure as envisaged by the RTI Act. Dealing with the issue of “fiduciary relationship”, the apex Court has explained the same in detail and held that the examination conducting bodies cannot retain the evaluated answer-sheets under any fiduciary capacity. Hence, the Court held that the exemption under section 8(1)(e) will not apply to the disclosure of answer-sheets. The Court also dismissed the contention that the entire system will collapse once disclosure is allowed under the RTI Act. As a matter of fact, it was argued on behalf of the MKSS and JOSH that some universities allow disclosure of answer-sheets under the RTI Act and they do not face any difficulty in the process and their system has not “collapsed”. As this judgement has dealt with various examination conducting bodies including the Public Service Commissions, universities, CBSE and other boards, professional bodies like ICAI, the directive will apply to every examination conducted by any institution in India.