By Abhishek Jha for YKA:
WHIP (Whistle for Public Interest), an organisation run by law students, has brought to light a peculiar irregularity in the modalities of the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) with respect to obtaining a photocopy of evaluated answer sheets. The CBSE currently charges a total of Rs. 1000 for obtaining a copy of the answer sheet per subject although the Right to Information Act should ensure that the copy is available for a smaller cost. Kumar Shanu and Paras Jain – founders of the organisation – have contended in a petition to the Supreme Court seeking contempt proceedings against the CBSE.
The petition arises from the fact that the Supreme Court had already ruled in a 2011 case (CBSE vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay) that the answer scripts be made available to students via the RTI Act if a request is made within the period of three months for which the answer-books are maintained by the CBSE. Since an RTI application only requires one to pay Rs. 10 as the application fee and Rs. 2 for each page of information sought, the cost of obtaining a copy of one’s own answer sheet for a student would be much less than what they need to currently pay according to CBSE regulations.
The students came to know of this irregularity when Ishwin Mehta, another member of WHIP and a second-year law student, filed an RTI in December 2015 asking the CBSE to provide details of the procedure, rules, and regulations of CBSE for providing answer sheets. The CBSE in its reply stated that from 2014 it has been following a procedure under which “no candidate will be permitted to make a request for providing of photocopy(ies) without following the procedure of verification of marks and in the same way no candidate would have a right to challenge the answer(s) without verification of marks and getting a photocopy of the evaluated answer-book.”
The Board’s reply also stated that they do not provide photocopies under RTI. Thus, although the fee for obtaining a photocopy of the evaluated answer-book is Rs. 700 per subject (still higher than what the fee would be if the answer-book was being provided by CBSE under RTI), the fees for verification of marks and that of revaluation being Rs. 300 per subject and Rs. 100 per question respectively, the total fee works out to be at least Rs. 800.
The students, after learning of this irregularity, made a representation to the CBSE in February this year asking it to “quash this Unfair Practice and Arbitrary Rules which are contrary to the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India in CBSE and Anr. VS. Aditya Bandhopadhyay and Ors.” within two weeks. The rules remaining unchanged, the students then have filed the said petition.
A similar contention had arisen in the earlier case too, wherein the CBSE had argued before the Supreme Court that it had rejected the request for providing a photocopy under RTI because CBSE maintains a fiduciary relationship with its evaluators. Also, that the Examination Bye-Laws did not allow for inspection of answer-book(s), and that larger public interest does not warrant such a disclosure.
However, the Court in its judgement had stated that according to the definitions of the RTI Act, the answer-book is an information that can be sought under the RTI Act and that the Act should override the Bye-Laws of the Board. The Court also stated that a fiduciary relationship (one involving trust between a trustee and a beneficiary) between the examinee and the examining body should not be a hindrance in providing the answer-book to the very person who wrote it and that such a relationship does not exist between the examining body and the examiner after the examiner has evaluated the answer-books.
When asked about what prompted the students to file the RTI and the subsequent petition, Kumar Shanu told YKA that they have been doing this work in public interest and that as social activists raising their voice, they seek “to find solutions through the judiciary.”
“Recently we got the Delhi High Court RTI rules amended,” he added, referring to irregularities in the Court’s rules which were not in agreement with the RTI rules laid down by the Central Government in 2012, and was hopeful of getting the same done in the case with CBSE.