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Aditya Bandopadhyay revisited: Law students crack WHIP on CBSE over “exorbitant” RTI fees

Aditya Bandopadhyay revisited: Law students crack WHIP on CBSE over “exorbitant” RTI fees

Aditya AK

A group of law students has threatened the Central Board for Secondary Examinations (CBSE) with legal action over its non-compliance of a Supreme Court judgment.

The Whistle for Public Interest (WHIP), started by Amity Law School students Kumar Shanu and Paras Jain (pictured), has written a letter to the CBSE Chairman asking the CBSE 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. Further, to obtain a copy of the answer book, an additional fee of Rs. 700 would have to be paid. The notice also states 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 shell out a total of Rs. 1,000 per subject.

In doing so, contends WHIP, the Board has failed to take into account the Supreme Court’s judgement in CBSE v. Aditya Bandhopadhyay, wherein it was held that an answer-sheet would fall under the ambit of ‘information’ under Section 2(f) of the Right to Information Act, 2015.

The judgment states,

“When a candidate participates in an examination and writes his answers in an answer-book and submits it to the examining body for evaluation and declaration of the result, the answer-book is a document or record…Therefore the evaluated answer-book is also an ‘information’ under the RTI Act.”

In effect, the fees payable to obtain answer sheets is determined by the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005. According to Rule 4, apart from the 10-rupee application fee, the applicant would have to pay Rs. 2 for each page of information sought.

And this is exactly what WHIP has pointed out in its letter to the CBSE Chairman.

Interestingly, this is not the first time they have fought for this very cause. In 2014, Paras had approached the Delhi High Court against the Institute of Company Secretaries of India for charging Rs. 500 for copies of answer sheets. In that matter, a Bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini held that applicants seeking copies of answer sheets should be charged as per Rule 4. (Read the order here.)

On a subsequent occasion, the Central Information Commission had pulled up Delhi University in this regard.

Speaking to Bar & Bench, Paras said,

“Recently, the Central Information Commission has also passed an order against Delhi University, which was charging Rs. 750 for the answer sheets. The CIC has passed directions to all the universities and the HRD Ministry to comply with the Supreme Court judgment.”

And Paras and Kumar plan to continue their crusade to uphold the RTI Act.

“We want to make people aware of how this powerful tool can be used in preserving the democracy of the country.”

Coming back to the matter at hand, it seems less likely that it’s a case of mere oversight on the CBSE’s part. This is evident from the fact that the notice patently states, “No request for revaluation will be accepted through RTI”.

Whether the CBSE will be prompted to have a change of heart remains to be seen. Should the Chairman not reply within two weeks, the students plan to file a contempt petition in the Supreme Court of India.

Read the representation and the CBSE’s RTI reply:

Image by Shome Basu.