Despite a Supreme Court order asking public examination authorities to release response sheet after evaluation, Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have been evading such requests for Common Admission Tests (CAT) citing their standard procedure and commercial interest of their testing partners.
The Supreme Court in its crucial order had maintained that the response sheet, which is evaluated by exam authorities, is a record of information which essentially falls under the purview of RTI. The IIMs, however, have not only been refusing to share the evaluated response sheet, but also denying access to answer keys of its question papers, which according to the Supreme Court is a piece of information that can be shared with candidates.
The position taken by IIMs on holding back the answer keys and response sheet is in complete contrast to the SC order of August 9, 2011, where it says that the provisions of the RTI Act will prevail over the provisions of the bye-laws/rules of the examining bodies regarding examinations.
The SC order was in response to a petition filed by a candidate seeking answer sheet from CBSE. Careers360 digs deeper into the SC order to find out why Indian Institutes of Management are obliged under RTI act to share answer keys and response sheets of CAT.
Why answer Sheet is a piece of ‘information/record’ within RTI Act?
The SC ruling says that the evaluated answer book is a record containing ‘response’ of examinee and ‘opinion’ of the examiner, both being part of information under RTI Act.
The SC order reads: “The definition of ‘information’ in section 2(f) of the RTI Act refers to any material in any form which includes records, documents, opinions, papers among several other enumerated items. The term ‘record’ is defined in section 2(i) of the said Act as including any document, manuscript or file among others. When a candidate participates in an examination and writes his answers in an answer-book and submits it to the examining body for evaluation and declaration of the result, the answer-book is a document or record. When the answer-book is evaluated by an examiner appointed by the examining body, the evaluated answer-book becomes a record containing the ‘opinion’ of the examiner. Therefore the evaluated answer-book is also ‘information’ under the RTI Act.”
‘Certified copy of the evaluated answer-book’ can be sought under RTI
As evaluated answer book carries ‘break-up of marks’, which is also part of record, the SC ruling says that students can seek a certified copy of the evaluated answer book under RTI Act.
“An evaluated answer book of an examinee is a combination of two different ‘information’. The first is the answers written by the examinee and second is the marks/assessment by the examiner. When an examinee seeks inspection of his evaluated answer-books or seeks a certified copy of the evaluated answer-book, the information sought by him is not really the answers he has written in the answer-books (which he already knows), nor the total marks assigned for the answers (which has been declared). What he really seeks is the information relating to the break-up of marks, that is, the specific marks assigned to each of his answers,” the SC order reads.
IIMs take RTI ‘exemption’ shield
While IIMs have been taking RTI exemption shield to deny students access to its CAT evaluation methodology and answer sheet, SC order categorically disallows any RTI exemption in such cases, saying that “furnishing the copy of an answer-book, there is no question of breach of confidentiality, privacy, secrecy or trust.”
The order says that “When an examinee seeks ‘information’ by inspection/certified copies of his answer-books, he knows the contents thereof being the author thereof. When an examinee is permitted to examine an answer-book or obtain a certified copy, the examining body is not really giving him some information which is held by it in trust or confidence, but is only giving him an opportunity to read what he had written at the time of examination or to have a copy of his answers.”
Therefore, in furnishing the copy of an answer-book, there is no question of breach of confidentiality, privacy, secrecy or trust. The real issue therefore is not in regard to the answer-book but in regard to the marks awarded on evaluation of the answer-book. Even here the total marks given to the examinee in regard to his answer-book are already declared and known to the examinee. What the examinee actually wants to know is the break-up of marks given to him, that is how many marks were given by the examiner to each of his answers so that he can assess how his performance has been evaluated and whether the evaluation is proper as per his hopes and expectations,” the SC order read.
Still, defining RTI exemptions to their own convenience, the IIMs have sat on hundreds of RTI requests seeking information on answer key, evaluation methodology and response sheet.
SC refuses RTI ‘exemption’ clauses for Answer key release
The SC order makes it amply clear that none of the exemptions under RTI is allowed for holding back the answer keys.
“What arises for consideration is the question whether the examinee is entitled to inspect his evaluated answer-books or take certified copies thereof. This right is claimed by the students, not with reference to the rules or bye-laws of examining bodies, but under the RTI Act which enables them and entitles them to have access to the answer-books as ‘information’ and inspect them and take certified copies thereof.”
The Court order further says that, in this regard, the RTI act should be enforced strictly for securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities. “The right to information is a cherished right. Information and right to information are intended to be formidable tools in the hands of responsible citizens to fight corruption and to bring in transparency and accountability. The provisions of RTI Act should be enforced strictly and all efforts should be made to bring to light the necessary information which relates to securing transparency and accountability in the working of public authorities and in discouraging corruption,” it says.
Read below other excerpts from the SC order:
“The RTI Act provides access to all information that is available and existing. This is clear from a combined reading of section 3 and the definitions of ‘information’ and ‘right to information’ under clauses (f) and (j) of section 2 of the Act. If a public authority has any information in the form of data or analysed data, or abstracts, or statistics, an applicant may access such information, subject to the exemptions in section 8 of the Act.”
“The examining bodies (Universities, Examination Boards, CBSC etc.) are neither security nor intelligence organisations and therefore the exemption under section 24 will not apply to them. The disclosure of information with reference to answer-books does not also involve infringement of any copyright and therefore section 9 will not apply.”
“The provisions of the RTI Act will prevail over the provisions of the bye-laws/rules of the examining bodies in regard to examinations. As a result, unless the examining body is able to demonstrate that the answer-books fall under the exempted category of information described in clause (e) of section 8(1) of RTI Act, the examining body will be bound to provide access to an examinee to inspect and take copies of his evaluated answer-books, even if such inspection or taking copies is barred under the rules/bye-laws of the examining body governing the examinations.”