The Central Information Commission has directed National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) to provide the answer sheets of M.Phil PSW Part I Annual and Supplementary Examinations held in 2017 to an examinee.
The Commission has reiterated that examinees have the right to inspect their own answer sheets under the Right to Information Act 2005.
The CIC was hearing a plea filed by a Senior Research Fellow under UGC based on an RTI application was filed against the CPIO, National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) seeking information on seven points regarding the copy of his evaluated answer book for the M.Phil PSW Part I Annual and Supplementary Examinations held in 2017. In response, the CPIO had provided a pointwise response in a letter to the applicant. The applicant being discontent with the letter had approached the FAA who had provided additional clarification on certain points of the letter. A second was filed following the order of the FAA by the applicant.
During the hearing the appellant contended that he had not been provided complete information and that the answer sheets he had sought for, was malafidely denied by the respondents on the basis that the existing system at NIHMS lacked any provision for providing evaluated answer scripts to PG students. Apart from this, the appellant also raised a host of other issues related to the transparency of the institution in its procedures such as delay in publication of results, non-publication of merit list in PhD course etc.
The counsel for the respondents argued that the applicant under section 6 of the RTI Act can obtain the information which is already in existence and accessible to the public authority under law. In this case, as per the existing system/Bye laws at NIMHANS, no provision for providing evaluated answer sheets to PG students existed, as a result of which the public authority did not have access to such results. Hence the results were not furnished to the applicant. It was further contended by the respondents that an 'opinion' under 2(f) referred to such available materials and providing an 'opinion' was not obligated under the Act.
The CIC at the outset observed that the law regarding access by students to their own answers sheets had already been well settled. It referred to CBSE & Anr. V. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors. SLP (C ) NO. 7526/2009 wherein the Supreme Court had observed that every examinee will have the right to access his evaluated answer-books, by either inspecting them or taking certified copies thereof unless it was exempted under Section 8 (1) (e) of the RTI Act, 2005. The SC had further stated that when a candidate participates in an examination and writes his answer in an answer-book and submits it for evaluation and declaration of the result such answer-book is a document or record. The evaluated answer book containing the 'opinion' becomes'information' under RTI. Evaluated answer books would be exempted from section 8 of the RTI Act and the examinee will have right to access the same.
The right to access such answer book in the view of the SC was moreover not claimed under the bye-laws of the institution but under the RTI Act which entitles access to such information. By virtue of section 22 of the RTI Act, provisions of the Act prevail over any other law for the time being in force which means that it would prevail over the bye-laws of the examining bodies.
The CIC further observed that non-access would also impact the right to life and livelihood of the students:
"The Commission also felt that issue under consideration involved Larger Public Interest affecting the fate of all the students who wish to obtain information regarding their answer sheet/ marks obtained by them which would understandably have a bearing on their future career prospects which in turn would ostensibly affect their right to life and livelihood. Hence allowing inspection of their own answer sheet to the students ought to be allowed as per the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005."
In this regard, the CIC referring to several precedents, observed that every action of a public authority is expected to be carried out in public interest which has an impact in the socio-economic drive of the country. Public interest referred to the general welfare of the public which warranted protection and recognition.
With regards to the other grievances raised by the appellant the Commission held that such disputes were outside its jurisdiction. It is concerned only with whether the information sought for has been provided to the petitioner and if denied, the justification behind such denial among other things. Therefore, other contentions as were raised in this case were outside its purview.
Thus the CIC ordered the respondents to provide a copy of the evaluated answer sheets to the examinee. It also directed the respondent public authority to convene periodic conferences to familiarize the concerned officials about the relevant provisions of the RTI for effectively discharging their responsibilities. The appeal was hence disposed off.
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