A student from Mumbai who appeared for her HSC Board examination in October 2011 has been denied last week, copies of her original answer sheets of the three subjects
Last week, an anguished mother wrote to me: “This is xxxxx xxxxx from Mumbai. I have applied for a certified copy of my daughter’s answer sheets from Maharashtra HSC Board as per the RTI (Right to Information) Act. I received a letter from HSC Board stating that I can only see the answer sheets and they are not liable to give me a certified copy. Please advise me what I should do further. Please reply me urgently as the date kept for inspection is 24 February 2012.”
Reesha (named changed) had appeared for her Standard XII of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary & Higher Education in October 2011. Her results showed that she had failed in three subjects. This prompted her mother to invoke the RTI Act to procure certified copies of her answer sheets. Last week, she visited the SSC/HSC Board office (as it is commonly termed) located in Pune but was denied the copies, in flagrant violation of the Supreme Court judgment in August 2011, which gives every student the right to copies of his/her answer sheets.
The manner in which the officials of the HSC Board dealt with this issue is truly shocking. When this mother applied for certified copies of her daughter’s original answer sheets of three subjects on 7th January to the Public Information Officer (PIO) of the HSC Board, there was no reply. The pretext being the Board is still framing guidelines on the information to be given for queries of copies of the answer sheets, as a sequel to the Supreme Court judgment of August 2011. However, a circular issued by the state government on 27th December had clearly stated that the Supreme Court directive should be followed in true spirit until the guidelines have been formulated and formalized.
Since the PIO did not reply, this mother filed an appeal to the First Appellate Authority (FAA). (Just to recall, the Supreme Court has given a historic order ruling that every student of this country has the right to get a copy of his or her answer-sheet in every examination he or she sits for—be it the state board, CBSE or any other competitive examination!)
The FAA allowed the mother to only see the answer sheets (as if it was doing a big favour) on 24th February, with just 24 hours’ notice. The mother resides in Thane and she had to come to Pune immediately the next day. However, the letter sent by the FAA harshly put down terms and conditions, making the applicant feel like a “criminal”. They are:
You are allowed to only see the answer sheets. You will not be allowed a copy of the same
• You will be given only 10 minutes to see the answer sheets
• You will be charged Rs500 for seeing the answer sheet of each subject
• You are required to get a demand draft for the same
• If you are not present at the scheduled date for seeing the answer sheet, you will never be given an opportunity again
• Please do not get any writing pad, pen, mobile, mobile camera or any other electronic gadget along with you
• You will have to fill a form stating that you will not indulge in any misconduct while seeing the answer sheet
• If the student tries to misbehave, a police case will be registered against him/her
• Only one guardian/parent will be allowed to accompany the student to see the answer sheet
• The applicant and his guardian/parent will have to state in writing that they have seen the answer sheets
• The student will not be allowed to see the answer sheets again
• Please note that your visit would be under CCTV surveillance
Vijay Kumbhar, a RTI activist, and I suggested to the mother to visit the HSC Board as per the FAA’s orders but to register her protest regarding denying her right to be given certified copies of the answer sheets and against the charges of Rs500 per subject for seeing answer sheets. When she paid the visit, she was shown the answer sheets. She registered her protest verbally.
What should she do? She should immediately write to the Supreme Court complaining about its order being violated, says Mr Kumbhar. He also points out that, “if the FAA has mentioned that information could not be provided because the Board has yet to frame the guidelines, then how could it charge Rs500 per subject from the RTI applicant? Also, if the HSC Board has anyway shown the answer sheet, isn’t it meaningless not to provide her the certified copy? Also, when the Board’s circular has clearly stated that the SC order should be followed until its own guidelines are framed, why did it violate this norm?
Leading RTI activist and legal luminary Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar who appeared on behalf of the petitioner in the answer sheet case had stated after the Supreme Court judgment, “In the order delivered by the Supreme Court, 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.”'
He further stated that, “Dealing with the issue of ‘fiduciary relationship’, the court has explained the fiduciary relationship in detail and held that the examination conducting bodies do not retain the evaluated answer sheets under any fiduciary capacity. Hence, the court held that 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 have not ‘collapsed’.”
The HSC Board’s move is indeed detrimental to information dissemination and transparency in educational institutions and boards.
(Vinita Deshmukh is a consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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