SC asks CBSE to provide answer sheets strictly under RTI Act without charging exorbitant fees
Despite the historic 2011 judgment of the Supreme Court, where procuring copies of answer sheets by students came under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) continued to defy it. In a reply to a RTI query, posed by Whistle for Public Interest (WHIP), comprising a group of law students, the CBSE replied on 28 December 2015, that, it charges Rs700 per subject for providing copy of answer sheets. In addition, students were compulsorily required to go through the process of ‘Verification of Marks’ for which the CBSE has prescribed fee of Rs300 per subject.
This means that a student has to pay Rs1,000 per subject, if she applies for a copy of the answer sheet. This was in gross violation of the SC order of 2011, which held that “Answer-Sheet is an Information and therefore, examinees shall have the right to inspect their Answer-Sheets under RTI Act, 2005 and its Rules made thereunder which prescribes Rs10 as application fee for getting the information and Rs2 per page for the copies of such information.”
This prompted the group of young lawyers of WHIP to file contempt of court at the apex court. Kumar Shanu, one of the members of WHIP says, “We filed a contempt petition against the Chairman of CBSE in the Supreme Court for willfully disobeying the 2011 judgement. Our Contempt petition was heard on 1st August and on 16th August by the division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice PC Pant. Advocate Prashant Bhushan represented us on pro-bono basis. The express direction to the CBSE in this case has again enabled students to access their evaluated Answer-sheets under RTI an application fee of Rs10, whereas, no fee can be charged from the applicants who fall under the below poverty line (BPL) category.”
In its recent order, the Supreme Court directed the CBSE to “scrupulously observe” the directions made by the Court in 2011. The CBSE has been asked to provide evaluated answer-sheets to candidates under RTI Act in compliance with the Supreme Court’s Ruling in the matter of CBSE & Anr. Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors –Civil Appeal No. 6454/2011).
Before filing the contempt petition in the Supreme Court, WHIP members sent a letter on 22 January 2016, to the Chairman of CBSE requesting to quash this unfair rule and implement the law of providing the answer-sheets under RTI.
Shanu says, “CBSE stated that they could not provide answer sheets under RTI, as it would involve huge costs. The Board also said that the fees was charged not with the intention of earning profit, but to ‘devise a mechanism that is systematic and fool proof to remove the element of subjectivity’.”
This compelled WHIP members to approach the Supreme Court. Their contentions was that, “CBSE, being an institution responsible for educating a large section of the society refuses to comply with the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India. CBSE was blatantly taking away the rights of nearly 50 lakh students every year as it conducts board examinations, Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and National Eligibility Test (NET). The Supreme Court’s decision in our contempt petition shall not only ensure the students get access to their answer-sheets under RTI but it will also help a large number of youngsters learn and use the Act as a tool in the matters involving public authorities. This would help them become responsible citizens.”
By the way, all the state run institutions falling under the meaning of Public Authority defined under section 2(h) of the RTI Act are also obliged to provide answer-sheets under this transparency law.
Here is the order passed by the Supreme Court in CBSE matter…
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, 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 series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)