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After a long-drawn battle, the administration of the Rajiv Gandhi National Law University (RGNUL), Patiala recently acceded to uploading the minutes of Executive Committee and General Committee meetings on the University website.
The move comes after Registrar Dr Naresh Kumar Vats, who is also the RTI State Appellate Authority for RGNUL, passed an order directing that these minutes be uploaded prospectively.
In response to an RTI query filed on behalf of the students regarding the same, the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) had responded by stating that the paper documentation may be viewed upon appointment or payment of the prescribed fee.
In an appeal filed against the SPIO order, it was pointed out that public authorities are obligated to computerise these and other records under Section 4 of the RTI Act within a reasonable time.
The Appellate Authority, in turn, upheld the SPIO ruling on this aspect, stating that such computerisation may be made only “subject to availability of resources” and further that the decision is left to the public authority to decide as per the requirement of the circumstances. That being the case, the Appellate Authority added,
“RGNUL is committed to ensure maximum transparency in its operations and keeping this in view, I have directed the SPIO to upload minutes of Statutory Body Meetings on the websites prospectively. Further, SPIO has been directed to upload the minutes of EC meeting dated 25th July 2019 and the minutes of the GC meeting dated 31st July 2019 on RGNUL Website.”
The students have, however, protested against the authorities citing infrastructural or resource constraints as a reason for the reluctance to upload the minutes of these meetings. While the minutes of the last EC and GC meetings have been uploaded, the previous meeting minutes have not been uploaded. As per the Appellate Authority order, the direction to upload these minutes is only prospective in effect.
This means that the minutes of the committee meetings during the term of former Administrative Officer Captain SP Singh are yet to be made public online. It may be noted that multiple student complaints regarding Captain Singh’s conduct during his time as AO played a significant role in triggering student protests last March. Captain Singh’s subsequent resignation from his post also only came to light after the students filed an RTI.
The SPIO ruling, as upheld by the Appellate Authority, has however stated that interested persons may view the paper records of the requested minutes on appointment/payment of fees.
The student body has intimated that it intends to push for the publication of all such meetings, as required under the RTI Act. A press release issued earlier this week on behalf of the students states,
“It was only after umpteen RTIs requesting access to the Minutes of RGNUL General Council and Executive Council Meetings were rejected on flimsy and frivolous grounds such as financial constraints as it is a newly established university, lack of infrastructure, non-availability of documents in digital form etc., that the University Administration finally gave in and uploaded the Minutes of the latest Meetings of the Executive Council (25.07.19) and General Council (31.07.19), after a strongly worded RTI Appeal, critical of the evasive and dismissive nature of RGNUL’s SPIO was filed.”
The Appellate Authority and University Registrar, on the other hand, have asserted that RGNUL has substantially complied with the RTI mandate. The ruling states,
“These provisions obligate the Public Authority to make an honest and diligent attempt to make the information pro-actively available subject to various constraints…absence of penal provisions for non-compliance of section 4 clearly demonstrate the legislative intent. RGNUL has substantially complied with the mandate of the Act as envisioned in Section 4 and the information is uploaded on the website from time to time and updated from time to time.”
The Authority has also opined that it is not bound by the 2013 UGC guidelines cited by the students to assert that all meeting minutes should be disclosed publicly. In this regard, the ruling statutes,
“UGC Guidelines on Students’ Entitlements, 2013 are “Guidelines” and not “Regulations” to be binding. Absence of penal provisions for implementation of these guidelines clearly demonstrate that these are not binding and are guidelines for the Institutions. Be that as it may, RGNUL is substantially complying with these guidelines as well, as discussed hereinbefore.”
In a brief conversation with Bar & Bench, Vice-Chancellor Paramjit S Jaswal also asserted that there is nothing secretive and that available information is being provided, “through RTI also.”
Reluctance to publicly disclose Rules, Regulations, etc governing RGNUL
Another bone of contention that remains to be resolved concerns the disclosure of the rules and regulations that govern RGNUL. In this regard, press release issued by the students states,
“It may come as a surprise for outsiders but we, the students of a legal institute of such stature, have always been kept in the dark about the rules and regulations that are applicable on us (such as examination rules, attendance rules, reimbursement policy etc.) as the same are not available anywhere! We are expected to abide by the rules which we do not even know exist. Any attempt by students to seek access has always been met with strong opposition from the Administration.”
Apart from the RGNUL Act 2006 (the University’s establishing statute), are the RGNUL Regulations, 2007, enacted under the 2006 Act.
The RTI query which had ultimately led to the administration uploading GC and EC meetings had also asked for “name and year of all rules/regulations/by-laws-guidelines etc. made by or applicable to RGNUL under the RGNUL Act, 2006.” The query was made particularly in view of the fact that presently, only the principal Act of 2006 has been published online by the University on its website.
Till date, the RGNUL Regulations 2007 have not been published. Amidst RTI efforts, it was discovered that amended regulations were enacted on more than one occasion, including in 2014 and in 2018. Further, as per records accessed, the administration has previously cited provisions of “RGNUL Statutes” as the basis of decisions taken by it. These provisions are not found in the 2006 Act.
This prompted the students to ask the SPIO for a detailed list of laws, rules, regulations etc. that govern that University. The SPIO, however, responded by saying that the records are too voluminous to be produced. Its ruling stated,
“The required information is available in paper form in our office. The record is also voluminous as information sought is voluminous. You are requested to visit the RGNUL Office of any working day by taking prior appointment to see/collect desired information free of cost.”
An appeal against this ruling pointed out that the applicant had merely sought for a list of the names of the relevant rules, regulations etc.
“All that the query has asked for is a basic list of the name and year of rules/ regulations/ by-laws/ guidelines etc. under the RGNUL Act, 2006, however, in a blatant disregard of the information asked for, the SPIO has replied by stating that the information is (1) in paper form and (2) is too voluminous to be produced.”
This led the Appellate Authority to respond by stating,
“RGNUL Regulations were made in the year 2007 and from then onwards that are added, updated and revised from time to time. They are called as RGNUL Regulations.”
However, the issue appears to be far from resolved. As pointed out by the student body,
“Its only by resorting to filing RTIs have we come to know of the names of some of these rules and regulations (such as RGNUL Statues, RGNUL Regulations May 2014, RGNUL Regulations October 18, etc.). As students, the least we expect from our University is to make available all the rules and regulations that govern us.”
[Read the Appellate Authority order]