Should CBSE be allowed to charge Rs 500/- for a copy of the answer sheet?
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is a national level board of education in India controlled and managed by the Central Government with over 21,000 schools in India and 200 schools in 28 foreign countries affiliated to it. The CBSE conducts the examinations for Class 10 and Class 12 every year mostly in the month of March commonly referred to as the Board Exams. If a student seeks revaluation, it is a three step process:
- Requesting for Photocopy of Answer sheet
- Revaluation of Answer Sheet.
The CBSE allows a 3-5 day’s window on their website to file for copy of answer sheets and re-evaluation for all the students and separate fee is payable for each of the step above. With this context, let us look into the case dealt by the CIC.
Background of the case
The attested copies of her evaluated Board exam answer sheets were sought through a RTI Application and the information was provided with a delay. Before the CIC, the Appellant stated that she wants to restrict the case to seeking an inquiry into the delay caused in providing her with the answer scripts as requested under the Life & Liberty clause of the RTI Act as she had to forego the opportunity of pursuing her graduation from a prestigious Delhi University College for want of desired percentage of marks.
View of the PIO
The PIO submitted that the delay in providing the answer sheets was due to the time taken in sorting of papers by the answer book cell. PIO pointed out that the access to the answer scripts or the right to seek re-evaluation was not denied to the Appellant. The CBSE allows a 3-5 day’s window on their website to all students to file for copy of answer sheets and re-evaluation. The Appellant did not apply for copy of the answer sheets or revaluation during this facilitation period and later has sought for the same through the RTI Act even as request for revaluation cannot be entertained under the RTI Act.
The Appellant’s father prayed that the exorbitant fees charged by CBSE does not allow for all parents, especially the middle and low income groups of parents to afford seeking copy of answer sheets or re-evaluation. The PIO submitted that each answer sheet is charged at Rs. 500/- while revaluation of each answer is charged at Rs. 100/-.
View of the CIC
The CIC observed that there has been a delay in providing the information to the Appellant. However, it will not be appropriate to hold that the Appellant was prevented from pursuing higher education in her choice of college due to the delay in providing the information to her under the RTI Act. The CIC observed that it is not the case that the appellant was not aware of the facility being offered during the 3-5 day’s window, rather she explained their unfortunate inability to pay for the fees being charged by CBSE under the extant examination rules. The CIC ruled that this is clearly not a case of obstruction of information under the RTI Act per se but of taking recourse to a cost-effective alternative to access the information, whose fate did not turn out in the manner it was desired for by the Appellant. The CIC observed that it is not to discredit the cause of the Appellant but to clarify the position that losing the opportunity to seek revaluation of answer sheets at the relevant time cannot be pleaded as a reason to castigate the PIO or the CBSE.
The CIC ruled that the action in the matter can be limited to the delay caused in providing the information to the Appellant, i.e. failure of the then CPIO to provide the information within 30 days from the date of receipt of the RTI Application. The CIC directed the concerned PIO to send his written explanation to show-cause as to why action should not be initiated against him under Section 20 of the RTI Act for failing to provide the information to the Appellant within the stipulated time frame of the RTI Act.
Taking an empathetic view of the concerns regarding similarly placed students who find it difficult to pay the fees prescribed by CBSE for seeking copy of answer sheets and re-evaluations, thus compelling them to take recourse to alternative modes of dissemination of information like the RTI Act, the CIC marked a copy of this order to the Chairman, CBSE and Secretary, Ministry of Education for consideration.
Analysis of the order
- There is no specific observation in the order of the CIC regarding whether it has accepted the view of the applicant that this application was covered in the life and liberty clause. The CIC ought to have given a specific observation on this aspect.
- The view of the CIC that it will not be appropriate to hold that the Appellant was prevented from pursuing higher education in her choice of college due to the delay in providing the information to her under the RTI Act appears grossly incorrect. If there are two avenues available to a citizen, it is up to the candidate to choose either of the routes and hence, castigating a citizen to choose one option is bereft of logic. If the applicant was aware of another option, is it implied that he uses that option and not any other?
- The CIC has ruled that it the PIO or the CBSE cannot be castigated for the loss of opportunity to seek re-valuation. The CIC has acknowledged that the applicant lost the opportunity to seek revaluation of answer sheets and but did not find anyone, responsible for it. The CIC seems to imply that no one, other than the applicant, is responsible for his situation. So much for a citizen reposing faith in the RTI Act to seek for his life and career.
- Issuing a show cause notice to the PIO by the CIC to explain the delay was a step in the right direction.
- By marking a copy of the order to the Chairman, CBSE and Secretary, Ministry of Education for consideration, the CIC has taken the next step for ensuring transparency. It would have been better to send it giving a specific reference of a provision of the RTI Act. It could have been under Section 25 (5) which empowers the CIC to give a specific recommendation if it appears that the practice of a public authority in relation to the exercise of its functions under this Act does not conform with the provisions or spirit of this Act, it may give to the authority a recommendation specifying the steps which ought in its opinion to be taken for promoting such conformity. Further, the Section 19 (8) (a) vest the CIC the power to require the public authority to take any such steps as may be necessary to secure compliance with the provisions of this Act.
- A reference may be made to the case of Institute of Companies Secretaries of India v. Paras Jain (Civil Appeal No. 5665/2014, Date of judgment 11 April, 2019). The ICSI insisted that the copies of the answer sheet can only be sought as per the procedure prescribed by it. The Supreme Court directed that a candidate is free to apply for certified copies under the RTI Act, 2005 or as per the procedure laid down by the Institute. When an application is made under the RTI Act, the fee has to be charged as per the RTI rules and not as per the Institute guidelines. The SC held that the existence of two avenues is not mutually exclusive and it is up to the candidate to choose either of the routes.
- In this case, by virtue of keeping a very short window of 3-5 days for re-valuation, the CBSE is deliberately making the applicants seek the copy of answer sheet by paying a higher fee of Rs. 500/- per answer sheet (when compared to fee to be paid using RTI Act).
- It does not appear to be a revenue generation step by CBSE but is rather a measure to dissuade examinees from seeking copies of their answer sheets. The CBSE is known for its progressive policies and scientific approach and it is not understood why they have resorted to restrictive policy vis-à-vis providing copy of answer sheet. Is the CBSE afraid of anything? The CBSE should be open to scrutiny and should consider providing the copy of answer sheets suo-moto to all the students after the checking is over. What is holding them from doing so?
- In this case, an application was filed on 17.05.2019 and almost 2 years later, one is still discussing the trivialities while the practice of CBSE continues to stifle lakhs of students. For how many more years should the practice be allowed to continue?
For the case of Institute of Companies Secretaries of India v. Paras Jain, please refer to the link - http://rtifoundationofindia.com/files/infobeans-cms-next/upload/19.pdf