Conceding that the disclosure of the inspection reports of law colleges in public domain will benefit the student community at large and significantly reduce the burden of RTI (Right to Information) applications, central information commissioner (CIC) Saroj Punhani, in a recent order, directed the Bar Council of India (BCI) to upgrade its website to facilitate uploading of this vital information.
Mr Punhani further directed the first appellate authority (FAA) of the BCI to bring the issue of upgradation of the website to his competent authority “to ensure that action is expedited with respect to the upgradation of the BCI website.”
The CPIO (central principal information officer) was also ordered to provide information sought by RTI applicant, Prasoon Shekhar.
Mr Shekhar sought the following information from the Bar Council of India:
- How frequently the inspection of colleges is done by BCI;
- Provide the list of colleges which are not found fit after inspection between 2016-2020;
- Provide the list of colleges whose affiliation was cancelled by BCI between 2016-2020;
- Provide the list of all the college and the members who inspected along with date and time (especially for the colleges which come under (2) and (3) of the RTI request
BCI’s CPIO replied, “All the applications for approval of colleges are considered after inspection only. Firstly, the application of the new law colleges is given priority. The existing law colleges are also inspected every three years.” However, the CPIO replied that he has no list of colleges which are not found fit after inspection and those whose affiliation with BCI is cancelled. He also replied that he has no information on the members who conducted inspections or any minutes of the meetings held by the members. The CPIO also blamed the lock-down for the delayed reply. This reply was upheld by the FAA.
The information asked by RTI applicant Mr Shekhar came up for second hearing in 2022, two years later!
Mr Shekhar argued, through video conferencing, that, “Despite a passage of over 16 years from the date of enactment of the RTI Act, the Bar Council of India is not complying with the mandatory provision as enumerated under Section 4 of the RTI Act. More particularly, Section 4(1)(b) and 4(2) of the RTI Act relating to suo-moto disclosures by the public authorities which is evident from a bare perusal of the website of respondent Bar Council of India.”
Referring to an earlier CIC of 2016, wherein RTI applicant HN Pathak had requested for similar information, Mr Shekhar brought the CIC order to the notice of the CIC. The CIC, in his order of 2016, stated, “There was no specific disclosure under Section 4(1)(b) in the official website of BCI and the CIC had directed to file a compliance report with undertaking that BCI would update information periodically. However, from a perusal of RTI Section of Bar Council of India website, the information is nothing more than a formality with no space for suo moto disclosure.”
The CIC order of 2016, pertaining to disclosure of inspection report, is quoted as follows: “In fact, the BCI is under an obligation under Section 4(1)(b) to voluntarily disclose every inspection report on their official website. The parents and students or any other person has a right to know the reasons for recommending to accord the recognition. They should get an opportunity to verify the claims made by the legal educational institute, which entitled them to the recognition. It is not proper and legal on the part of the BCI to deny the information sought.”
In its 2016 order, the CIC reiterated, “The transparency in the process of recognising law colleges, voluntary disclosure of inspection reports explaining inadequacies in faculty and infrastructure in law colleges will go a long way in removing the scope of corruption. The information so disclosed will help students and their parents to exercise the choice of law colleges in very effective manner. The aims and objectives of Advocates Act 1961 could be achieved if the provisions of transparency in RTI Act are properly complied with by the Bar Council of India.”
The FAA of BCI vehemently objected to the arguments of RTI applicant Mr Shekhar explaining, “The BCI website is in the process of being upgraded and eventually all suo motu disclosures would be available therein.” However the FAA clarified, “BCI does not upload/ place the inspection report of colleges in the public domain because that is ought to create unnecessary confusion and speculation amongst the stakeholders as the fact finding committee/inspection committee only renders its opinion on the question of approval. The final decision is based on the findings of the Legal Education Committee, which is comprised of members from distinguished backgrounds including that of the retired justices of the high courts and the Supreme Court. It is this final approval that is placed in the public domain indicating the status of the colleges.”
Mr Shekhar counter-argued stating that the decadent lack of transparency in the functioning of BCI, and the absence of inspection reports of the law colleges in the public domain, is causing immense agony to the student community. They are unable to make an informed decision for taking admission to law colleges and cited certain instances in this regard with respect to certain law colleges in Patna, wherein the concerned high court had to intervene and issue directions to the BCI to conduct the inspection of the law colleges in Bihar.
Indeed, the quality of education in most law colleges of India is questionable, as told by some legal luminaries to this author. Without transparency, the quality of our future lawyers would also be questionable.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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”.)