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The Tamil Nadu Dr Ambedkar Law University (TNDALU) has been asked to withdraw its challenge to a recent State Information Commission direction to provide students examination answer scripts at a nominal fee under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
A notice to this effect has been sent by Whistle for Public Interest (WHIP), an organisation that works with the aim of ensuring implementation of the RTI Act.
Last December, the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission had ruled in favour of a student from TNDALU who had sought for his November 2017 examination answer scripts from the University under the RTI Act.
The University had initially directed him to send an application to its Controller of Examinations, following which he would have to pay Rs 500 for answer script copies for each subject. The student had successfully challenged this direction before the Information Commission.
The University, however, took the matter to the Madras High Court, arguing that the Rs 500 fee for obtaining the answer script had been prescribed on practical considerations. In this regard, the TNDALU petition states,
“The purpose for fixing Rs 500/- per paper is not for the sale purpose of collecting funds for the university but to avoid opening of the floodgates for thousands of students who write examinations to apply and obtain the answer scripts which is highly impossible for the petitioner university to furnish answer scripts to all the students and for free of cost. Such a process would end in much hardship and administrative difficulties and inconvenience for the Controller of Examinations of the petitioner university.
Hence the amount of Rs 500/- has been fixed for the students…to obtain the answer scripts who genuinely require a scrutiny of valutation of the answer scripts.”
Therefore, TNDALU had prayed for the Court to set aside the Information Commission order and allow it to continue with its internal system of provision of answer scripts, including the payment of Rs 500 per paper. The matter had come up before Justice P Audikesavalu. It has been posted to be taken up next in October.
However, WHIP has now requested that the University withdraw its petition in the High Court, lest it risk contempt proceedings. As highlighted in the representation dated September 10,
“…every public Authority including The Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University is required to allow its candidates to inspect and to obtain their answer scripts post examination as information as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005 and its rules…”
Notably, the Supreme Court’s judgment in CBSE v. Aditya Bandopadhyay & ors has been cited, wherein it was laid down that an answer book is also information under the RTI Act. The representation points out that this law was also endorsed in subsequent cases.
The WHIP letter further cites Rule 4 of the RTI Rules, which states that only a Rs 10 payment is required for an RTI application, whereas Rs 2 per page is the fee prescribed for obtaining the documents.
“We are astonished to learn about your utter disregard of the above law by denying the information of answer scripts to the students and compel them to seek their evaluated answer scripts from controller of examination of the University as per its internal guidelines/rules/regulations which require students to pay Rs. 500/- for obtaining the evaluated answer script of a subject. This unfair practice of the university denies candidates access to their answer scripts, especially the ones who cannot afford such an exorbitant fee leading to denial of information and justice…. It is ironical that a law university which is responsible to educate students to fight against injustice has been unfortunately doing injustice with its own students.“
The letter signs off by cautioning,
“If the university either fails to provide information of Answer scripts as information under the RTI Act or compels any student to follow the University’s Internal Guidelines/ Regulations, in both such circumstances, all responsible officers including the Vice-Chancellor, Registrar-in-charge, Controller of Examination and Public Information Officer shall be deemed to have done wilful act of Contempt of Court and necessary legal action against such officers shall be taken accordingly.
We sincerely hope the leading Educational Institution of law shall scrupulously observe the settled legal position and shall follow & respect the rule of law.“
A copy of the representation has also been marked to the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit and the State Law Minister, CV Shanmugham.
[Read the Notice sent by WHIP to TNDALU]