Gujarat HC quashes CIC order directing records of PM Modi’s educational degrees to be provided to Arvind Kejriwal

A single-judge bench of the high court held that the information sought was personal, and no public interest was served by its disclosure. It also imposed costs of ₹25,000 on Kejriwal for unnecessarily persisting with the matter.


THE Gujarat High Court on Friday quashed the 2016 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) directing the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to provide the specific number and year of the undergraduate and postgraduate degrees of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Delhi University and the Gujarat University offices so that they could easily locate records of his degree. The commission had also directed both universities to provide these records to the Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who had sought this information and was one of the respondents before the high court.

A single-judge bench of Justice Biren Vaishnav passed the judgment to this effect while imposing costs of ₹25,000 on Kejriwal for unnecessarily persisting with the matter. The judgment came on a petition filed by the Gujarat University against the CIC order.

Despite the degree in question being put on the website of the petitioner university for all to see and despite this fact being made expressly clear with precision in the pleadings before this court and despite the respondent never ever disputing the degree in question either during the pendency of these proceedings or even during final hearing, [Kejriwal] has persisted with the matter. This is one more reason to impose costs while allowing this petition,” Justice Vaishnav held while allowing the petition against the CIC order.

Pertinently, Kejriwal had not filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking the degree of Modi. He had sent a letter to the then Information Commissioner Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu on April 28, 2016, asking for disclosure of the educational degree of Modi. The Information Commissioner treated the letter as a deemed RTI application and passed the impugned order.

Degree is personal information

Commenting on the merit of the disclosure of the degree, Justice Vaishnav held that educational documents, including degrees, fall within the ambit of personal information of a citizen, disclosure of which was exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

Justice Vaishnav also held that such information is held by universities and school boards in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of their students, which was again exempted under Section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act. He extensively relied upon the decision of the Supreme Court in CPIO, Supreme Court versus Subhash Chandra Agarwal (2019), in which it was held that personal and professional records, including qualification, performance, evaluation reports, annual confidential reports, disciplinary proceedings, and so on are all personal information, which is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy.

No public interest in disclosing degree

Since both Section 8(1)(j) and 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act provide for disclosure of information, which is otherwise exempted, in larger public interest, Justice Vaishnav considered whether there was any public interest served by the disclosure of Modi’s information as sought by Kejriwal.

He answered in the negative, holding that once the commission came to the finding that the information sought was neither relatable to accountability and transparency in public functions discharged by Prime Minister Modi, nor was there any larger public interest in the disclosure of the said information, as in, the disclosure sought was merely something which was of ‘interest to the public’ and a matter of political curiosity and not something which was in public interest. Justice Vaishan thus noted that the CIC ought to have strictly applied the exemptions contemplated under Section 8(1)(e) and (j), and ought to have refused disclosure of the said information.

Instead the commission has rendered an omnibus finding that educational qualification related information about public authorities, public servants or political leaders occupying the constitutional positions is not hit by exception under Section 8 of the RTI Act. This Court fails to comprehend the justification or the legal foundation on the basis of which the commission has arrived at the said finding. The said decision of the CIC, in the opinion of the court, is contrary to the legal position and is therefore set aside. This court holds that in absence of any larger public interest, which is neither pleaded nor raised, the educational degrees of Sh Narendra Damodardas Modi are exempted from disclosure under the provisions of section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act,” Justice Vaishan observed.

He also noted that during the hearing, full opportunity was once again given to Kejriwal to place his justification as to what larger public purpose would be served in disclosing the educational degrees of Modi to him through the RTI Act route when the same was already available in the public domain. Justice Vaishnav wrote that in response, the only justification which came forward was that all information about a candidate contesting elections must be available in the public domain for it to be scrutinised by the public.

This court can only record its disagreement with the aforesaid justification … when the degree is already in public domain. The said reasoning is outside the ambit of concept of public interest,” Justice Vaishnav underscored. He agreed with the submission of Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta that the insistence of Kejriwal to get Modi’s educational degree through the RTI route, when the same was already available in the public domain, also created doubt on Kejriwal’s bona fides and motive.

Lack of suo motu power

Justice Vaishnav also held that there is no provision under the RTI Act under which the CIC is empowered to take suo motu cognisance of any oral request made before it at an appellate stage.

This court is of the view that the commission which is a mere creature of statute could have exercised only such powers and functions which have been expressly entrusted to it by the statute. In absence of any inherent or suo moto powers being vested in the commission by the RTI Act, the commission could not have entertained an oral request and suo moto converted it into an RTI application; that too at an appellate stage, he held.

Justice Vaishnav chided the CIC for what he described as “a very callous and cavalier manner” of entertaining Kejriwal’s oral request to pass statutory directions/orders, thereby “completely trivialising the statutory jurisdiction vested in it”.

Reference made by the Information Commissioner presiding the Bench of CIC to his father’s ideology and comment and the constituent debate whereby a critique has been made for not restricting adult franchise on the ground of illiteracy are completely extraneous reasonings going into the root of the decision-making process adopted by the commission,” Justice Vaishnav flagged.

He thus observed that in the present case, there had been an indiscriminate misuse of the salutary provisions of the RTI Act for purposes not contemplated by the legislature while enacting the Act.

In the present case, the manner in which a request came from [Kejriwal] who was neither an applicant nor an appellant and was merely a respondent before the CIC leaves much to be desired. Such requests cannot be made so casually making mockery of the very intent and purpose of the RTI Act,” he sternly noted.

Devotion to duty not monopoly of well-educated persons

Justice Vaishnav also observed that no educational qualifications have been provided for leaders in order to be eligible for election. It is a well-known fact, Justice Vaishnav wrote, that barring a few exceptions, most of the candidates elected to the Parliament or the state legislatures are fairly educated, even if they are not graduates or post graduates.

To think of illiterate candidates [as incompetent] is based on a factually incorrect assumption. The experience and events in public life and the legislatures have demonstrated that the dividing line between the well-educated and less educated is rather thin. Much depends on the character of the individual, in the sense of devotion to the duty and the concern of the welfare of the people. These characteristics are not the monopoly of the well-educated persons,” he theorised.

Click here to view the Gujarat High Court’s full judgment.

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