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The Supreme Court of India yesterday directed the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to “scrupulously observe” the directions made by the court in a previous judgment.
This, after a group of students filed a contempt petition in the apex court contending that the 2011 judgment in CBSE v. Aditya Bandhopadhyay was not being followed by the examination authority.
The Whistle for Public Interest (WHIP), started by Amity Law School students Kumar Shanu and Paras Jain, had earlier written a letter to the CBSE Chairman asking the Board to provide answer sheets copies at the rate prescribed by the RTI Rules, as opposed to the “exorbitant fees” currently charged.
Earlier, one of the members of WHIP had filed an RTI seeking information on the procedure by which the CBSE issued evaluated answer sheets to candidates. In its reply, the Board attached a notice dated May 26, 2015, which states that students who intend to verify their marks would have to pay a fee of Rs. 300. Furthermore, to obtain a copy of the answer book, an additional fee of Rs. 700 would have to be paid.
The notice also stated that these processes are “interlinked”, meaning that no candidate can obtain a photocopy of the answer book without applying for verification of marks. Therefore, candidates seeking copies of answer sheets would have to pay Rs. 1,000 per subject.
However, the Board had failed to consider the 2011 judgement, which held that answer sheets would come under the ambit of “information” as per Section 2(f) of the Right to Information Act, 2015. In effect, the answer sheets ought to have been made available as per the rates prescribed in the RTI Rules. According to Rule 4 of the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005, apart from the 10-rupee application fee, the applicant would have to pay Rs. 2 for each page of information sought.
After the CBSE Chairman failed to respond to the students’ letter, they decided to file a contempt petition in the Supreme Court in March this year. The CBSE eventually replied, stating 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”.
The matter was taken up for hearing this month by a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Prafulla Pant. Advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for the law students. Initially, the bench requested that the students be allowed to argue, not on the merits of the case.
However, the bench later questioned the intention of the students and asked them to prove that the petition was in public interest. The judges were reluctant to entertain the petition, as an order passed a couple of weeks ago reveals.
However, once the students produced documents proving their bona fide intention, the bench had a change of heart. Eventually, the bench would pass an order directing the CBSE to comply with the 2011 judgment.
The students believe that the decision showcases the power of RTI. Speaking to Bar & Bench, Kumar said,
“The Supreme Court order will not only ensure the students get answer-sheets under RTI but it will also help a large number of students learn and use RTI as a tool in the matters of public authorities. This would have a great impact.”
The decision will affect scores of students around the country who write exams conducted by the CBSE every year, including JEE and NEET.
Read the Supreme Court’s order:
Read the CBSE’s reply to the students’ letter: