29 Dec 2008, 0125 hrs IST, Hemali Chhapia, TNN
MUMBAI: In a landmark judgment that will change how examinations are conducted in the country, the Central Information Commission has ruled that authorities must usher in transparency and reveal questionwise marks awarded to candidates, under the Right To Information Act.
The ruling will bring cheer to India's large student population, which has been fighting for access to copies of answer sheets ever since the RTI Act was passed.
In March 2006, Treesa Irish from Kerala became the first student to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to see her exam answer scripts. She lost the battle when a full bench of the Central Information Commission ruled that the data she had requested was of a personal nature, and that its disclosure had no relation to any public interest and would therefore be prohibited under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
The CIC also held that the relationship between the exam-conducting authority and the examiner was fiduciary in nature, and therefore information must be kept confidential under section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act.
However, Irish was hardly alone. Students under several education boards across the country have sought copies of their answer booklets under the RTI Act. All failed in their quest, with public information officers conveniently referring to Irish's case as the precedent. That is, until Ajeet Kumar Pathak, a class XII student from Bihar, demanded that the CBSE board provide him details of questionwise marks awarded to him in the chemistry paper.
Here too, the CBSE board stated, ``The larger public interest does not warrant disclosure of such information.'' Pathak then filed his first appeal, which was again defeated, with the authority ruling that ``no candidates shall have the right to obtain questionwise marks''.
But in a dramatic twist, the CIC overturned those rulings. Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who ruled on December 22 that questionwise marks awarded must be shared with the candidate, said, ``None of the exemption clauses in the RTI Act were applicable in this case.'' Gandhi said that this ruling was now ``in principle'' applicable to all authorities conducting examinations across the country.
In Maharashtra too, several students have taken the RTI route to get their hands on copies of their answer sheets. Basanti Roy, divisional secretary of SSC board, said that to date, there has been no provision in the law to part with answer sheets, and that several students had to be turned down. ``But we will wait for orders to flow in from the state government on providing questionwise marks,'' Roy added.
Currently, the Maharashtra State Board for Secondary and Higher Secondary Examination lets students demand verification, which allows for marks to be re-calculated by opening the answer booklets. Verification also helps ensure that all answers have been marked. However, there is no provision for reassessment, which requires the moderator to read through and reassess the content of the paper.
NCERT joint director G Ravindra said that this ruling was in line with the National Curriculum Framework of 2005, which emphasized transparency in conducting examinations. ``NCF 2005 had suggested several exam reforms, including transparency and stress-free exams. However, NCERT is an advisory body, and it was upto boards to implement NCERT recommendations,'' added Ravindra. Karnataka was the only state in the country that decided to go ahead and hand over answer sheets to students.
Educationist and former chairman of the Mumbai board J M Abhayankar said that while the CIC ruling was something to cheer about, boards must be proactive and provide copies of answer booklets. Abhyankar himself had presented a report to the state government on exam reforms in 2002, but it remains on paper.
``I had recommended that the Maharashtra board also give copies of answer booklets to students. But the state did not accept the recommendations under some pressure,'' he said. He added that providing copies of the answer scripts would ensure better evaluation.
Also read the related stories in THE HINDU as follows:
Disclose question-wise marks to examinee: CIC
New Delhi (PTI): A class XII student is likely to get details of question-wise marks scored by him in Chemistry with the CIC dismissing CBSE's plea that it was exempted from disclosing such information under the RTI, a decision which seems to be in conflict with its earlier judgements.
Manoj Kumar Pathak from Buxar in Bihar had sought the details of question-wise marks in Chemistry of class XII examination in 2006 of an examinee Ajeet Kumar Pathak from CBSE.
But CBSE refused to provide the details saying the information was exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act. The CBSE also cited previous decisions of the CIC which had exempted bodies which conduct exams, including UPSC, from making any disclosures.
"The information asked by appellant is exempted under section 8(1)(e) since CBSE shares fiduciary relationships with its evaluators and maintain confidentiality of both the manner and method of evaluation," CBSE replied.
The larger public interest does not warrant the disclosure of information desired by the appellant, the Board said quoting the previous judgments of CIC. The reasons given by CBSE were upheld by the appellate authority.
But Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has now ordered it to provide answer-wise marks sought by appellant.
Gandhi said that CBSE could not advance "reasonable" reasons for denying the information. He added that the onus of proving that denial of information was justified was on the CBSE which it could not do, hence information should be provided to Pathak.
"The CBSE could not justify the reasons for denial. If a public authority fails to provide any substantial reasons for claiming exemptions from RTI claiming 'secrecy', it must give reasons for the same, failing which they should give the information," Shailesh Gandhi told PTI over phone.
He added that this rule applies to even the examination conducting bodies like CBSE.
Asked about the previous judgements of CIC about the exemption given to CBSE from disclosing details related to answersheets, Gandhi refused to comment.
"I can comment about my decisions but not on other decisions of the CIC," he said.
In a judgement dated November 21 2008, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has made a distinction between bodies constituted for conducting examinations like CBSE, SSB and UPSC and "other" public authorities, whose main function was not of conducting examinations but filling up of posts either through promotion or by recruitment.
In his judgement, Habibullah exempted CBSE and bodies like UPSC and SSB from the disclosing details related to evaluated answer sheets.
"...In such cases, a citizen cannot seek disclosure of the evaluated answer sheets under the RTI Act, 2005," he said in his order.
Also read the related stories
Kolkata HC: Student to see answer script under RTI