The matter relates to a landmark ruling of the Supreme Court of India in 2011 (CBSE & Anr. Vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors. –Civil Appeal No. 6454/2011), wherein the Supreme Court held that evaluated Answer-sheets of candidates is Information under Right to Information Act, 2005.
This enabled students to access their evaluated Answer-sheets under RTI across all the government run Educational Institutions. The application fee for such a request is Rs 10/- and further a physical copy of any document can be obtained at Rs 2 per page. Whereas, no fee can be charged from the applicants who fall Below Poverty Line (BPL) Category.
Whistle for Public Interest- WHIP is a group of law students who deal with the issues of Public Importance to promote transparency and accountability in the system. To examine the implementation of the above-mentioned ruling, one of the members of WHIP filed an RTI Application with the CBSE seeking its procedure of providing the copies of evaluated Answer-sheets.
In its reply to this RTI, the Board attached a notice dated May 26, 2015, which states that no application will be accepted under RTI for obtaining the copy of answer-sheets. Further, students who intend to verify their marks would have to pay a fee of Rs. 300. Also, 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.
This reply shocked Kumar Shanu and Paras Jain, the founders of WHIP. According to them, CBSE, being an Institution responsible for educating a large section of society, is blatantly violating the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India. This compelled them to file a Representation in Public Interest with the Chairman, CBSE to quash this Unfair Rule and implement the law of providing the answer sheets under RTI. In response to the representation, CBSE signified its inability to do so, as according to them, the process involves high cost.
Considering CBSE’s failure in performing its duty, Kumar and Paras have now filed Contempt Petition against Chairman of CBSE before the Supreme Court of India. The students have filed this Petition in person and the matter is listed for hearing on 1st August 2016 before the Bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice P.C. Pant. The matter assumes a great importance as CBSE conducts Board Exams, JEE, NEET and NET and it involves rights of nearly 50 lakh examinees every year. Deciding a matter related to access of evaluated answer sheets under RTI against University of Delhi, the Central Information Commission had observed “It is very sad that educational institution like university is not mindful of the basic fact and they are going on denying information to students, by imposing high cost, which means if you can’t afford, you can’t access.”
The law students will be represented in this matter by Public Interest Crusader Advocate Prashant Bhushan. Kumar and Paras had also challenged the arbitrary provisions of the Delhi High Court RTI Rules through a writ petition, argued the matter themselves and got the Rules amended in January 2016.