The Leaflet

| @theleaflet_in | October 17,2019

IN a notable judgment giving relief to the students, the Madras High Court on October 14, 2019, held that the regulations formulated by the University cannot override the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and students can obtain the evaluated answer scripts under Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

The court was hearing a plea filed by the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University. The varsity had approached the Madras High Court challenging the decision of the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (SIC) that had directed it to provide the copies of the answer scripts to an applicant under the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005.

The university contended before the High Court that the University had its own rules and regulations for furnishing copies of the answer scripts, therefore, it was bound by the same. It was also submitted that the university was ready and willing to furnish copies of answer scripts on payment of charges prescribed under its rules and regulations.

As per the university’s rule, a fee of Rs.500 per subject has been made payable for the students asking for a copy of the answer script. However, under the RTI Act, 2005 chargeable fee is Rs.2 per page.

The court said that it was for a student to choose either of the forum to seek the answer scripts.

Rejecting the contentions of the law university, Justice S.M. Subramaniam held “the University is bound to follow the procedures contemplated under the Right to Information Act and they cannot deny the benefit of answer scripts to the information seeker under the provisions of the Right to Information Act, by stating that procedures of the University would be followed”.

He added, “If any such guidelines, rules or regulations running counter to the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the spirit of the Right to Information Act alone would prevail and all these Regulations and the procedures adopted by the writ petitioner-Law University are to be kept aside. Thus, the University is bound to follow the procedures contemplated under the Right to Information Act and they cannot deny the benefit of answer scripts to the information seeker under the provisions of the Right to Information Act, by stating that the procedures of the University would be followed”.

The High Court relied upon the decision of the Supreme Court in Institute of Companies Secretaries of India (ICSI) vs. Paras Jain wherein the apex court had held that “the avenue for seeking certified copies as well as inspection is provided both in the Right to Information Act as well as the statutory guidelines of the appellant. In our opinion, the existence of these two avenues is not mutually exclusive and it is upto the candidate to choose either of the routes. Thus, if a candidate seeks information under the provisions of the Right to Information, then payment has to be sought under the Rules therein, however, if the information is sought under the Guidelines of the appellant, then the appellant is at liberty to charge the candidates as per its guidelines”.

The High Court, therefore, held “thus, two options were provided to the information seekers. An information seeker can submit an application under the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 by paying the necessary prescribed fee. In the event of filing any such application under the Right to Information Act, 2005, the procedures contemplated under the Act alone must be followed and the Regulations of the writ petitioner-Law University cannot be followed. In the event of filing any application under the guidelines issued by the writ petitioner-Law University, then the second respondent is at liberty to follow the procedures contemplated under the UniversityRegulations as well as the fees prescribed by the University”.

“…When the Parliament enacted the law in order to develop transparency in public administration, undoubtedly, the other procedures or regulations formulated by any other institutions, cannot prevail over the Act of Parliament and those Rules and Regulations of such individual institutions can never override the purpose and object of the Right to Information Act, 2005”, the High Court said.

RTI activists Paras Jain and Kumar Shanu had also filed an impleading petition in the matter. They brought to the notice of the court that the Supreme Court had settled the issue in respect of furnishing of the answer scripts to the students, who all are submitting their applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005.

The High Court, thus, directed the university to dispose of all the RTI applications filed under the Right to Information Act, 2005, as expeditiously as possible, by following the procedures contemplated under the RTI Act as well as the Rules in force.

 

Read judgment here:

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