In a major relief to the students, the Central Information Commission has directed all the Universities in India, including deemed Universities and all examining bodies to provide copies of answer sheet only at a cost of Rs 2 per page. It has also directed UGC and Association of Indian Universities, to circulate, publicize and insist on implementation of the rule in all academic/examining bodies. It has also directed MHRD to circulate this order to all examining bodies including Universities and make it mandatory for them to bring uniformity in the rules and regulations by fixing cost at not more than Rs 2 per page of answer sheet.
CIC was examining the rule of Delhi University, which prescribed Rs. 750/- per application for seeking copy of the Answer Sheet. CIC has not only prescribed this ceiling, at the same time it has held that rules prescribing a student to pay exorbitant fees for seeking copy of answer sheets are in violation of Right to Information Law and must be changed to allow a student to exercise his Right to Information.
CIC gave this ruling while hearing a Complaint / Appeal regarding constraints including huge fees being charged for providing certified copy of evaluated answer sheet. The aggrieved student was questioning the regulation of Delhi University alleging that it enables University to impose unreasonable time frames and cost constraints on their right to secure copy of answersheet. CIC also ruled that such rules are against the law settled by Supreme Court of India.
Section 7 of RTI Act says: “…provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed…” Section 7(2)(a) says that the PIO has to ‘give details of further fees representing cost of providing the information as determined by him together with the calculations made to arrive at the amount in accordance with fee prescribed under sub-section(1) requesting him to deposit that fees….”. As per Section 7(2)(b), the PIO has to inform the applicant “concerning his right with respect to review the decision as to the amount of fee charged or the form of access provided…”. Rule 4 of the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules 2005, framed by the Central Government mandates the following rates, (a) rupees two for each page or actual cost in case of larger size paper.
CIC relied on Judgements of the Supreme Court in case of CBSE v Aditya Bandopadhyay and ICAI v. Shaunak Satya, which has held that evaluated answer-book is an ‘information’ under the RTI Act and cannot be under any exemption prescribed under RTI Act.
CIC also relied on the Judgement of Rajasthan High Court in relation to the exorbitant fee charged by a University to extent of Rs 1000 for copy of answer sheets, which had held that charging of exorbitant fees of Rs.1,000/- for the purpose of providing copy of answer-book to a student by the respondent-University is in violation of object and purpose of the Act of 2005 and is an ill-intended attempt on the part of the University to discourage the students from seeking certified copies of their answer-books.
CIC felt that imposing time and cost constraints over and above the norms prescribed by RTI Act and Rules and charging Rs 750 per paper, which far more than Rs 2 for copy per page (as prescribed) will impose economic burden on a student, who has paid an examination fee to meet the expenditure to conduct examination including the cost of evaluation. This is a huge amount over and above the fee collected, for recounting and reevaluation. CIC also felt that charging so high a fee/cost will not only deny the accessibility, but also immunize the public authority from being accountable to students. The resultant situation is: If a student cannot pay Rs 750, the Delhi University will become not accountable for its evaluation! This is against objective and scheme of RTI Act.
It finally held that that “prescribing unreasonable cost and time constraint will in fact amount to complete denial of information to the students on grounds of their economic status, which is in violation of Article 14, 15 and 16 of the Constitution of India. No citizen shall be discriminated on the basis of his access to resources or any criteria including poverty as per his fundamental report to equality. It is very sad that educational institution like university is not mindful of the basic fact and they are going on denying information to the students, by imposing high cost, which means if you cannot afford, you cannot access. Thus, charging of Rs 750 per answer sheet will amount to breach of sections 3, 6 and 7 of the RTI Act.”
It thus held that high cost of Rs 750 per paper for securing copy of answersheet and time conditions that a student has to approach only after 61 days and before 75 days after result declared will unreasonably restrict the right to access to his own answer book and breakup of marks awarded.
There are two concepts of law “substantive” and “procedural”. While RTI Act, 2005 guarantees “Right to Information” to an Indian Citizen, which is substantive law. Rules made by Public Authorities prescribing the condition for implementation of this “substantive law” is part of “procedural law”.
Public Authorities by way of delegated legislation cannot frame a “procedural law” by which exercise of “substantive law” becomes difficult or impossible. The “procedural law” has to aid the “substantive law”.
Making RTI Rules, to make it difficult for a student to exercise his Right to Information is infringement of liberty of students to get a photocopy of answer script and their right to access the information. The rules cannot prescribe unreasonable time and cost constraints, as “Right to access the Information” is inherent in “Right to Information”.
Ravi Bhardwaj | firstname.lastname@example.org