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Not off the mark

The Supreme Court rendered a landmark judgement on August 9 when it held that evaluated answer sheets are covered under the Right to Information Act and that this judgement would apply to all examinations including ones conducted by the public service commissions, universities, boards and also professional bodies.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2011 23:27 IST
Kavita A Sharma

The Supreme Court rendered a landmark judgement on August 9 when it held that evaluated answer sheets are covered under the Right to Information Act and that this judgement would apply to all examinations including ones conducted by the public service commissions, universities, boards and also professional bodies.

The judgement takes me back to the 1990s when the Parents' Forum for Meaningful Education (PFME) filed an application on behalf of a student in the District Consumer Forum of Haryana. The student wanted to access his answer scripts of his chemistry paper and then redressal of any grievance in case of an error. His board results showed that he had failed in the subject. The consumer forum ordered that the answer scripts be shown to him. Eight continuation sheets were found missing but nothing could be done as the board chose to go into appeal to the State Consumer Forum where PFME lost. This was because of an earlier order of the National Consumer Forum said an examinee was not a consumer and an examining body was an institution providing 'service' for a consideration.

We could not approach the high court because of a Supreme Court judgement in which it held that the process of evaluation of answer papers or of subsequent verification of marks under Clause 3 of Regulation 104 of the Maharashtra State Board did not attract the principles of natural justice.

In the August 9 judgement, the court, on the other hand, took the view that when an examinee is permitted to examine his answer sheet, the examining body is not giving him any new information but an opportunity to read what he had written earlier. Therefore, in furnishing the answer-book, there was no breach of confidentiality, privacy, secrecy or trust.

Of course, there was a genuine fear that the safety of the examiner would be endangered if his identity was revealed. So the court accepted the validity of this argument and exempted from disclosure not only the identity of the examiner but also of the scrutiniser, co-ordinator and head examiner. Further the court allayed the apprehensions of the examining bodies that they might have to store the corrected answer scripts running into lakhs for long periods and this could lead to infrastructural and administrative problems. It was clarified that “the right to access information” will have a certain time limit. In this case, what the RTI has achieved is something for which there was no mechanism earlier as the consumer court also did not see the statutory examining bodies as ‘service providers’ for a consideration.

Having taken this step, it is logical that the examining bodies should set up a grievance redressal mechanism even if it is at a small fee to cover the administrative costs. The fear that the examining body would be flooded with applications for access to corrected answer scripts may not be well founded as examinees too want a finality of results so as to move on with their career goals.

Kavita A Sharma is former principal, Hindu College, University of Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.