PM Modi degree row: Activists say challenge is in defence of RTI Act

Activists have told Delhi HC that they opposed Delhi University’s rejection of an RTI application seeking records of those who had passed BA exam in 1978 to prevent a wrong interpretation of RTI Act

Photo courtesy: PTI
Photo courtesy: PTI
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IANS

Three RTI activists—Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey and Amrita Johri—on Tuesday told the Delhi High Court that they want to prevent a wrong interpretation of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, while opposing Delhi University's rejection of an RTI application seeking inspection of records of students who had passed the BA degree exam in 1978, the year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to have cleared the exam.

The court was hearing a Delhi University plea filed last year seeking setting aside a Central Information Commission (CIC) order, saying the "impugned order, which is per se contrary to the Act, has far-reaching adverse consequences for DU and all universities in the country who hold degrees of crores of students in a fiduciary capacity".

The three activists, who are connected with the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), told the court that through their intervention application, they wanted to prevent erroneous interpretation of the Right to Information Act.

RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj: “The government adopting delay tactics and opposing disclosure of results of 1978 unnecessarily raises suspicion and doubt about the veracity of the PM’s election affidavit”

Bhardwaj posted a tweet thread after the court hearing yesterday, explaining about the petition and also the response of ASG Tushar Mehta. "Today in Delhi High Court hearing on disclosure of DU results of 1978 (year PM Modi claims to have graduated) ASG Tushar Mehta opposed our intervention. He made no legal arguments, only personal attacks—called us "busy bodies", "meddlesome interlopers seeking cheap publicity.

“The key grounds of our intervention are that 1: Results are not personal information; DU displays results of hundreds of exams online as do universities globally; 2: Exemptions cited by DU are not applicable for information relating to matters older than 20 years (Section 8(3) of RTI Act). The ASG didn't counter these arguments. The government adopting delay tactics and opposing disclosure of results of 1978 unnecessarily raises suspicion and doubt about the veracity of the PM's election affidavit.

“If results of exams held recently can be disclosed without undermining privacy, surely results of 1978 can't be secret! This is not just about DU results of 1978. If Delhi HC agrees with DU, citizens will not be able to access info about results under RTI. Imagine parents wanting to verify that doctor operating on their kid has a medical degree, will not be able to seek necessary information! Given the rot in the education system—fake degree scams, Vyapam and recruitment scams— we need greater transparency through RTI to ensure accountability and rule of law. Secrecy promotes corruption, wrong-doing and abuse of power.”



The activists have requested the court to dismiss the DU’s plea, saying “non-disclosure of information related to marks and results awarded by the university along with details of the students would be significantly detrimental to public interest”.

The RTI Act was created to address issues of widespread fraud, corruption, malpractices, cheating and misrepresentation about one's qualifications, the petitioners said.

They told the court that the issue related with access to information under the RTI Act involved wider public interest and the decision in the instant case was also likely to act as a precedent regarding access to information under the Act.

"It is the respectful submission of the applicants for intervention that the present petition was filed on an incorrect basis and based on an incorrect interpretation of law and canvasses a position of law with respect to Section 8 and 11 that is contrary to the provisions of law and is also contrary to manner in which Delhi University itself treats such information presently," the petition said.

The activists sought to bring to the notice of the court the critical importance of the act and in tackling large-scale fraud and corruption in terms of fake degrees or misrepresenting information about one’s academic qualifications.

The court has listed the matter for further hearing on August 23.

On December 21, 2016, the CIC had ordered to make the degrees public and rejected the contention of the Central Public Information Officer of the university that it was third party personal information. The CIC had directed the university “to facilitate inspection of relevant register where complete information about result of all students who passed Bachelor of Arts, in year 1978 along with roll number, names of the students, father's name and marks obtained as available with the university and provide certified copy of the extract of relevant pages from the register, free of cost”.

RTI applicant Neeraj had sought to know from the university the total number of students who appeared for Bachelor of Arts in 1978, besides result of all students who appeared in the examination along with their roll number, name of the students with father's name, marks and result pass or failed.

Denying the information, the Central Public Information Officer of the University had earlier responded that the information requested was treated as "personal information of the students concerned, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest".

The issue of the 1978 DU degree records cropped up after the Aam Aadmi Party raised questions about the degree of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, triggering a controversy, but the Delhi High Court had stayed the operation of CIC order.

With inputs by NH Web Desk.

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Published: 23 May 2018, 11:41 AM