students can now access their answer sheets
The Central Information Commission and various high courts have ruled in favour of students seeking to see their answer sheets. While a final decision on the matter is awaited from the Supreme Court, last week’s order by Nepal’s Supreme Court endorsing a similar decision by its National Information Commission, is a boost for students
Whether it is the school board exam, a university test or any competitive exam, there is always much dissatisfaction over the marks obtained. There have been cases of students with brilliant academic records scoring average marks and average students receiving red lines for subjects they were certain they would pass. Till the Right to Information (RTI) Act came into existence in 2005, the only hope for such students was to apply for a revaluation of their answer sheets, which usually was a mere re-totaling of the marks.
But, can access to answer sheets really change much? The case of a tribal student who failed the examination for the post of ‘gram sevak’ proves that this might even change one’s destiny.
Vijay Kuvlekar, state information commissioner, Pune division, says the student’s answer sheet had marked him as failed. So, he applied to see the paper, but his request was turned down by the officer. Therefore, the student invoked Section 6 of the RTI Act to get a copy of his answer sheet and also the list of candidates who had passed the examination from his batch. But the public information officer (PIO) refused to give the information, and so did the first appellate authority.
The student filed an appeal before Mr Kuvlekar. At the hearing, the PIO cited High Court and Supreme Court judgments to justify turning down the student’s request. Mr Kuvlekar stated that since this was a public examination for candidates seeking appointment to a post of public servant, citizens had the right to information about who was being appointed and under what merit. Since answer sheets were the most credible proof, transparency was essential.
Again, the officer pleaded his inability to give the list of candidates who had passed the exam, and he citied government resolutions (GR) that overruled this facility for the examinees. However, he agreed to provide a copy of the student’s answer sheet.
Mr Kuvlekar points out, “The answer sheet showed that the student stood meritoriously in the ‘selected’ list. Subsequently, he was selected for the post of ‘gram sevak’.”
In another case, Kolkata student Pritam Rooj obtained 91.6% in the Class X examination and 80.8% at the Higher Secondary (Class XII) examinations. He enrolled for the mathematics honours course at Presidency College, Calcutta University. In the Part I Bachelor’s degree examination, in 2005, Pritam secured 52%. The following year, he appeared for the Part II exam and got 208 marks out of a maximum 400. He was shocked to see that he got only 28 marks out of 100 in the fifth paper.
Pritam applied for re-evaluation of the paper. On re-evaluation, he received our marks more in the fifth paper and a fresh corrected mark sheet was issued to him. However, since he did not get a first class in his Bachelor’s course, he could not get admission to the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
On 14 August 2007, Pritam made a request under the RTI Act, seeking a copy of his university answer sheet. The PIO replied: “In response to your above application I am to inform you that it has been decided that henceforth no inspection of any answer script of any examination conducted by the University shall be allowed to any applicant under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Thus we cannot entertain your application and the same is rejected.”
Pritam was compelled to seek legal intervention. While the University refused to divulge information, the Calcutta High Court gave an order in Pritam’s favour.
Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar, RTI activist and legal luminary, writes in his blog: “The information commissions all across the country have not been adopting a consistent and uniform approach on the issue of disclosing answer sheets under the Right to Information Act. The Central Information Commission has adopted an approach that answer sheets of school examinations and some competitive examinations can be disclosed, but the answer sheets of university and board examinations cannot be disclosed as it would result in rendering the system unworkable. This approach of the Central Information Commission was taken as a defence in Pritam Rooj’s case.” (http://www.jaipuriar.blogspot.com/)
“The judgment in Pritam Rooj versus Calcutta University (AIR 2008 CAL 118) is a landmark judgment in this regard as it has rejected the contention of the university that the disclosure of the answer sheet will render the system unworkable and ordered the university to disclose the answer sheet to the applicant. The Court also rejected the approach of the Central Information Commission which allowed to disclose the answer sheets of certain examination, but disallowed to disclose answer sheets of other examinations.’’
In April 2007, the Central Information Commission heard a cluster of such cases pertaining to citizens seeking answer sheets of CBSE examinations, as well as those for government jobs. Most of the PIOs declined information citing Section 8, and stating that the relationship between an examiner and examinee is a ‘fiduciary’ relationship and thus is exempted from the RTI.
The CIC stated, “Any relationship, including a fiduciary relationship, is bound to have mutual rights and obligations. Thus, in the case before us, where there is a fiduciary relationship between the examiner and the authority conducting the examination, the obligations are mutual. This relationship does not end once the evaluation of the answer sheets is complete. The concerned authority has to take care that by disclosing the identity of the examiner, there is no possibility of an eventual harm to the examiner. Thus, even while disclosing the evaluated answer sheets, the authority conducting the examination is obliged to ensure that the name and identity of the examiner is not disclosed.”
It further stated that: “The fiduciary relationship between the examiner and the authority conducting the examination is personal and it can extend only insofar as the disclosure of the identity of the examiner is concerned, but it cannot be stretched beyond that point and as such neither Section 8(1)(e) nor Section 8(1)(j) exempts disclosure of the evaluated answer sheets if the authority concerned ensures that the name and identity of the examiners, invigilators, scrutinizers and any other person involved with the process is kept confidential.’’
Says Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, Access to Information Programme Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), “Students and examinees have been demanding the right to access their evaluated answer scripts under the RTI Act. While the examination boards and recruiting authorities, including the Union Public Service Commission, have adamantly refused to disclose these documents, information commissions and high courts have ordered disclosure. These matters are now pending before the Supreme Court. The Nepal supreme court’s decision is a trendsetter in the region.’’
Mr Nayak said, “So far, no high court has turned down the appeals of students. They have unanimously stated that in the interest of the students, accountability and transparency is required. A student has the right to know how well he has done. Some public authorities have argued that it would open the floodgates of such requests, but the Calcutta High Court turned this down saying that the process needs to be robust and transparent to ensure a proper system. There are many cases pending before the Supreme Court, but the expectation is that its ruling is not going to be any different from the high court decisions that have favoured the students. As it is, many institutions are already making this information public, so what’s all the fuss about?’’