On 9 January 2017, Information Commissioner (IC) Sridhar Acharyulu reprimanded Delhi University (DU) for rejecting a Right to Information (RTI) application seeking information about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s graduation from the University.
Two days later, Acharyulu was removed from his position.
What is the Central Information Commission?
The Central Information Commission is a body set up under the RTI Act, 2005. It is comprised of one Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than ten Information Commissioners (IC).
The Central Information Commission has many powers and functions, and its decisions are final and binding. Its main functions relate to adjudication in the second appeal for giving information, preparation of an annual report, direction for record keeping, and enquiring into complaints on the inability to file an RTI. All the functions of the Commission fall under the RTI Act, 2005.
As per the organisational structure mentioned above, the current CIC is RK Mathur while Acharyulu is one of the ICs.
What is the controversy over PM Modi’s education degree?
The debate over PM Modi’s educational qualifications began in 2015 after various RTI applications seeking details about his degrees were refused by DU and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Modi’s election affidavits say that he finished his undergraduate degree through a distance learning programme from DU in 1978 and his MA from Gujarat University in 1983. He had mentioned that he was married in his affidavit for the 2014 general election while mentioning the opposite for the Gujarat Assembly elections. Then there was the controversy surrounding former HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s fake Yale University degree.
These instances have fuelled speculation in the Opposition that the Prime Minister’s educational qualifications are questionable. The Constitution does not mandate any educational requirements in a PM candidate; the controversy is over whether Modi lied in his election affidavit.
The events leading to Mr Acharyulu’s sudden dismissal
Last year, an applicant named Neeraj filed an RTI plea regarding the information on the students who appeared for the BA exam in 1978, including their roll numbers and the marks they obtained.
The Commission’s order, passed on 21 December, said, “Commission directs the respondent authority, Delhi University, to facilitate inspection of relevant register where complete information about result of all students who passed in Bachelor of Arts, in the year 1978 along with roll number, names of the students, father’s name and marks obtained as available with the University and provide certified copy of the extract of relevant pages from the register, free of cost, before 30.12.2016.”
Denying the information, the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of DU had said the information requested was “personal information of the students concerned, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest”. Acharyulu, however, said, “[The CPIO] has not put forward any evidence or explained possibility to show that disclosure of degree-related information infringes the privacy or causes unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
In another ruling on a related case, Acharyulu in his capacity as Information Commissioner, fined DU Rs. 25,000 for denying information.
Barely two days after this incident, the Chief Information Commissioner (essentially, Acharyulu’s senior) R K Mathur took away Acharyulu’s charge of the Human Resource Development Ministry. Mathur issued an order stating that another Information Commissioner will address all matters related to the HRD Ministry.
Further details are yet to be revealed.
The Logical Indian’s take
While there is no concrete evidence connecting IC Acharyulu’s dismissal to the PMO, the timing is highly suspicious. It should be simple to understand for any of us that if a citizen wishes to know about the PM’s graduation details, they should be duly provided to him or her.
The Logical Indian requests the Central Information Commission and the Chief Information Officer to follow IC Acharyulu’s lead and make public the graduation details of DU’s 1978 BA batch as demanded in the RTI.