The Madras High Court on Monday held that evaluated answer sheets are `information' under the Right to Information Act, 2005 and Universities are bound to provide them to the Respondent-students.
In this regard, the court said,
"why should any public authority shy for providing public informations to the information seekers. Undoubtedly, confidential files are protected under the provisions of the Act itself and therefore, the officials should not shy about providing all informations to the public domain, enabling the citizen to understand the manner in which the Public Institutions are administered."
The order was passed by Justice S. M. Subramaniam while disposing of a petition filed by the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University (Petitioner), through Advocate V. M. G. Ramakkannan, assailing the order of the Tamil Nadu State Information Commission, whereby the Petitioner was directed to supply the copies of answer-sheets sought by the Respondent-students, under the RTI Act.
The Petitioner-University contended that it had not rejected the students' claim but had only insisted them to follow the procedures prescribed under the Rules and Regulations of the University, as per which, certain charges had been prescribed.
Rejecting this claim, Justice Subramniam said that the Apex Court had in unequivocal terms held that evaluated answer sheets are "information" under the RTI Act. (CBSE & Anr. v. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors., (2011) 8 SCC 497)
In this view he held,
"When the evaluated answer books are construed as an information, the same cannot be denied and therefore, the second respondent is entitled to get the evaluated answer scripts as per the application submitted by him under the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005."
Reinforcing the overriding nature of the Act, the court said,
"the Regulations formulated by the University cannot override the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005. 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."
However, the court clarified that an applicant was at liberty to follow the procedures contemplated under the University Regulations and could file an application as per its guidelines.
With these observations, the court directed the Petitioner-University to provide the information sought by the Respondent-students and further directed it to dispose all such similar applications, as expeditiously as possible.
Emphasizing on the significance of the RTI Act, the court lastly remarked,
"…accountability in the public administration is of paramount importance, as 'We, the People of our Great Nation' are sandwiched between corrupt and non-corrupt. Identification of corrupt and non-corrupt may be difficult in the event of non-transparency in public administration."