Despite a previous Supreme Court judgment which makes it mandatory for all education boards to put up the ‘model’ answers on its website, the Pune division of the state’s education board refuses to do so
Appalled by the low marks they scored in various subjects, several students appearing for this year’s Standard XII examinations approached Pune-based Right to Information (RTI) activists to help them with the disclosure of the `model’ answer papers, so that they could cross check if they have been assessed correctly. The Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education (MSBSHSE) that held the examinations, however, simply rejected the request for model answers from RTI activists Vivek Velankar and Vishwas Sahasrabudhe thus, displaying contempt of the Supreme Court.
The model answer papers, used as reference by examiners while correcting the papers are public documents after the results are declared and fall under the category of suo motu disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Yet the Secretary of the Board has denied this information to the activists, stating in his letter of 16 June 2013 that, “model answers are confidential documents and since they are written in a concise form, they cannot be publicly disclosed through our website.” This has affected hundreds of students seeking admission to professional colleges this admission season.
Outraged at this refusal of information, Velankar has now filed a RTI demanding copies of `model’ answers papers to be uploaded on the website that would give solace to students to cross check if the marks they scored are in tune with the model answers set by the Board. He states that, “this year DTE, NEET and IIT (JEE Advance) have uploaded their `model’ answer papers on their respective websites and brought about transparency in their examination system. Why is the HSC Board trying to veil it in secrecy?”
Earlier, on 9 September 2011, the Supreme Court, while hearing a case directed the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to put in public domain model answer sheets for examinations held by the body. The apex court had said, “…therefore, Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act does not bar or prohibit the disclosure of question papers, model answers (solutions to questions) and instructions if any given to the examiners and moderators after the examination and after the evaluation of answer scripts is completed, as at that stage they will not harm the competitive position of any third party.”
The SC also thwarted any previous judgments given otherwise and stated that, “we therefore, reject the contention of the appellant that if information is exempt at any given point of time it continues to be exempt for all time to come.”
In 2011, aggrieved students of the ICAI examination, Shaunak H Satya and others had filed a RTI application with the examining body demanding copies of model answer sheets but the information was rejected by the PIO as well as the CIC.
The CIC in its order stated that making model answer papers public amounts to ‘compromising’ the examination process and comes under “fiduciary relationship”.
The CIC order stated that, “This request of the appellant cannot be without seriously and perhaps irretrievably compromising the entire examination process. An instruction issued by a public authority—in this case, examination conducting authority—to its examiners is strictly confidential. There is an implied contract between the examiners and the examination conducting public authority. It would be inappropriate to disclose this information. This item of information too, like the previous one, attracts Section 8(1)(d) being the intellectual property of the public authority having being developed through careful empirical and intellectual study and analysis over the years. I, therefore, hold that this item of query attracts exemption under section 8(1)(e) as well as Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act. ‘’
The CIC in its decision had also stated, “Respondents have explained that what they provide to the examiners is ‘solutions’ and not ‘model answers’ as assumed by the appellant. For the aid of the students and examinees, ‘suggested answers’ to the questions in an exam are brought out and sold in the market. It would be wholly inappropriate to provide to the students the solutions given to the questions only for the exclusive use of the examiners and moderators. Given the confidentiality of interaction between the public authority holding the examinations and the examiners, the ‘solutions’ qualifies to be items barred by Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act. This item of information also attracts Section 8(1)(d) being the exclusive intellectual property of the public authority. Respondents have rightly advised the appellant to secure the ‘suggested answers’ to the questions from the open market, where these are available for sale.”
This unfavourable verdict by the CIC prompted the appellants to move the Bombay High Court. In its order of 30 November 2010, the High Court gave a verdict in favour of the students. The order said, “According to the Central Information Commission the solutions which have been supplied by the Board to the examiners are given in confidence and therefore, they are entitled to protection under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act. Section 8(1)(e) does not protect confidential information and the claim of intellectual property has not made by the respondent No.2 anywhere. In the reply it is suggested that the suggested answers are published and sold in open market by the Board. Therefore, there can be no confidentiality about suggested answers.
The high court further observed that: “In our opinion, the orders of both authorities in this respect also suffer from non-application of mind and therefore they are liable to be set aside. We find that the right given under the Right to Information Act has been dealt with by the authorities under that Act in most casual manner without properly applying their minds to the material on record. In our opinion, therefore information sought… could not have been denied by the authorities to the petitioner. The principal defence of the respondent… is that the information is confidential. Till the result of the examination is declared, the information sought by the petitioner has to be treated as confidential, but once the result is declared, in our opinion, that information cannot be treated as confidential. We were not shown anything which would even indicate that it is necessary to keep the information in relation to the examination which is over and the result is also declared as confidential.” Thereafter, the institution moved the Supreme Court but lost the case.
RTI activist Sunil Ahya states that, “in May 2013, the Delhi High Court while disposing of a petition filed against the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) by 15 students who obtained lower than expected scores in the Joint Engineering Examination (JEE) Main exam, the court directed the board to provide them with their Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) sheet, calculation sheet and answer keys before 29 May 2013.”
In June 2012, the Haryana State Information Commission had directed the state’s School Board to upload the `model’ answers on its website. State Information Commissioner Urvashi Gulati had stated in her order that, “The aim of the Act is to bring transparency and accountability. It is, therefore, directed that the Board should ensure availability of ‘answer key’ to questions on its website in future.”
Last month, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) agreed to disclose the `model’ answers of the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) main examination (formerly known as AIEEE) by charging a fee of Rs500 per applicant besides the cost of the Photostat copies. However, it disclosed it after the deadline of students to take admission to the advanced course of JEE was over, thus denying the aggrieved students of re-checking their marks and checking whether they were eligible for the advanced course, before the date of closure of admission.
Sadly, despite the RTI Act being a law to empower the faceless citizens, it is the public authorities at various offices who have put a spoke in the wheel of Act.
Building toilets to eliminate hookworms and increasing haemoglobin levels in children would help in bringing down infant mortality in India
All things are artificial, for Nature is the art of God.”
— Sir Thomas Browne
One of my old students, Raghavendra Rao, has been working with American mothers who usually have full blood haemoglobin—the iron containing blood pigment which carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Raghavendra’s work deals with women that have marginally lowered haemoglobin levels (below 11gm%). In addition, all American babyfoods have much higher iron content than Indian ones. What of the babies born in India to mothers, especially in rural areas, whose haemoglobin content is very low, indeed? Premature babies’ brain development gets affected due to lack of iron supply. Americans cannot believe that patients with such low haemoglobin levels are alive! I keep telling my European friends that not only are they alive but kicking as well!
The above-mentioned observation is only a microscopic part of the holistic development of a child. A recent survey in India showed that 70% of Indian children have only 50% haemoglobin. Mothers are still worse. While the poor diet that the less fortunate get in the first place is bad, the bigger enemy is the hookworm that parks itself in the human duodenum (the first part of the smaller intestine), where most of the absorption of iron takes place. Most children in India harbour the hookworm, since most of us are exposed to the larvae of the worm in wet soil. One need not have a break in the skin to let the larva get in. The free-for-all defecation results in the ubiquitous presence of hookworm eggs and is made worse during rains.
While the vast majority of Indian children are born to mothers whose haemoglobin levels are abysmally low, in addition, they play host to our friend hookworm. This is a deadly combination. It is a wonder that, despite this, we have made a mark in the intellectual field internationally.
The story is no different in the sports field. We spend lots of money to train sportspersons in India, while their blood oxygen supply is stifled because of hookworms. How could we get gold medals in the Olympics? If our PT Ushas and others had their mother’s full-blooded haemoglobin, they would have beaten Roger Bannisters hollow. Many more would have come up in the intellectual field as also in sports.
Education of girls and empowering women economically, in addition, would obviate the need for hospitals and expensive hi-tech procedures in our country. This will also bring down our much needed birth rate as a bonus. We seem to be doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Building toilets to eradicate hookworms is not a very hi-tech stuff that cannot be done indigenously. One could easily transform our poor villages into heavens for people to migrate back from the cities that are bursting at the seams. Our villages still have the best environment without pollution. Such reverse acculturation is the need of the hour, if India has to go forward. Technological advances and economic prosperity are only an illusion of growth. Real growth comes from human growth, physically and spiritually.
Monetary economy, ignoring human development, would ruin us in the long run. North America is a good example. While Americans, who form a small fraction of the world’s population (a third of India’s), control and consume 85% of the world’s wealth and resources, the rest of mankind has to make do with just 15% of the resources. Yet, are Americans happy? Far from it. The biggest epidemics in that country are suicide and divorce. To cap it, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is widening by the day! Suppression, oppression and denial are the mothers of all kinds of terrorism that America is feeling the pinch of these days.
Should we not learn from history to build an egalitarian society with the modest means at our command? This is a great country with one of the largest human resources, as well as enormous natural resources. We have to build our human resource, physically and spiritually, to build India into a great nation of good human beings who love the whole world as their own large family.
Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS
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