Answer-sheets covered under RTI: Punjab information panel

May 27th, 2010 - 9:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, May 27 (IANS) In what could be a landmark decision, the Punjab Information Commission Thursday ruled that a candidate appearing in a competitive examination for employment in government service has the right to access evaluated answer scripts after declaration of results.
Ruling that an answer-sheet is “information” within the meaning of Right to Information (RTI) Act and its disclosure is not prohibited under the transparency law, the commission even said this right extends to accessing not only their own answer-sheets but also those of other competing examinees.

Speaking for the five-member full bench of the commission, Chief Information Commissioner Ramesh Inder Singh observed: “Post-declaration of the result, any disclosure will only lend transparency to the competition and thereby reaffirm faith in the fairness of the system, by placing the entire process in public domain”.

The commission was hearing an appeal by Surinder Kumar, an ex-servicemen, who had appeared in the competitive examination conducted for appointment to the post of inspector, excise and taxation, in Punjab government in November 2008 but was not selected.

Dissatisfied with the result, he approached the public information officer (PIO) of the department to obtain copies of answer-sheets of the nine selected ex-servicemen candidates under RTI but was turned down, as the PIO contended answer-books are exempt from disclosure under Section 8 of the RTI Act, being “personal information of candidates and giving access to them will infringe on their privacy”.

Rejecting this argument, the commission observed: “An answer sheet is not a private parchment supplied by a third party. It is a public paper in the custody of a public authority.”

The commission even disagreed with the April 2007 order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) disallowing disclosure of answer sheets of examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and Staff Selection Board.

“The Central Commission, in our humble view, has not gone by the law, but by a perceived un-workability of the statutorily mandated rights. Expediency could never be a ground to keep the rights of citizens in suspended animation,” it said.

“Once the Central Commission had come to the conclusion that answer sheets are ‘information’ and that these do not fall within the exemption clauses of Section 8(1) of the Act ibid, the only inescapable and legally sustainable conclusion would have been to allow access to the answer sheets, no matter who conducts an examination and for what purpose.”

The state commission also rejected the argument that any large scale disclosure would introduce an element of uncertainty and make the system unworkable.

“Rather than any possible harm or injury, disclosure would do only well. It would stir up the examiners, make the assessment fairer and free from lapses or whimsical marking.”

The commission, however, noted that its ruling, for the time being, would be applicable to all examinations conducted for appointment to government jobs in Punjab and not to examinations conducted by educational institutions like universities and school education boards since the latter were not a party in this case.

Summoning the relevant answer sheets to be brought before it, it has also asked the PIO’s response as to why a penalty should not be imposed on him for withholding the information from the petitioner.

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