AAP MLA Sukhpal Khaira refuses consent to disclose his degree, info panel overrules
“It is not enough if Caesar’s wife is above suspicion, Caesar himself should be above suspicion”, the central information commission has noted as Aam Aadmi Party MLA from Punjab Sukhpal Singh Khaira refused to give his consent to disclose his degree under the RTI Act.
Information commissioner Divya Prakash Sinha mentioned this famous Shakespearean saying while hearing a petition of an RTI applicant who had sought details of Khaira’s educational qualifications but were not provided by DAV College, Chandigarh.
The denial of permission by Khaira to disclose his educational qualifications and degree resulted in some sharp comments from Sinha who overruled him and directed the DAV college to disclose the records.
Last year, another information commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu had ordered inspection of academic records of BA 1978-batch of Delhi University, a year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has passed from the University and inspection of class 10 and 12 school records of Union minister Smriti Irani. Both the orders were stayed by the Delhi high court.
Sinha was hearing a petition of an RTI applicant who had sought the information but was not provided by the DAV college. In his assembly election affidavit in 2017, Khaira has shown his highest educational qualification to be “BA 2nd year from DAV college Chandigarh”.
The matter came for hearing before information commissioner Sinha who asked the official of DAV college reasons behind denial of record. “... CPIO submitted that consent of the third party was sought and based on the refusal of the said third party information was denied to the appellant... submitted that the third party is a sitting MLA in the Punjab assembly,” Sinha pointed out.
“The denial of information disclosed in election affidavit by a elected member defies the very spirit of transparency and accountability solicited from a public representative,” Sinha observed.
“The present set of facts tend to the famous idiom that ‘Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion’ as a mark of ensuring probity in public life but ‘it is not enough if Caesar’s wife is above suspicion, Caesar himself should be above suspicion’,” he noted.
The official of DAV college also told the commission that he also apprehended the availability of this information as it pertained to the year 1984, when preparatory system was being followed, so it is not clear if the third party was part of the preparatory course or BA- II course.
“The public representative is reposed with the trust of his people who elect him into office based on the declarations made in the nomination papers and other verbal affirmations deeming such individual to be worthy of representing them,” Sinha said.
He said the aspect of larger public interest in disclosure of the information regarding a public representative who is expected to work towards the welfare of his/her constituency yields to the protection of right to privacy. “When a public representative is making a declaration on affidavit, there ought to be no reason why he should refuse to give his consent for disclosure of the same under RTI Act rather such hesitation raises a reasonable doubt in the minds of his/her constituents regarding the credibility of the representative,” he said.
Terming the denial as “perturbing”, Sinha noted it is established beyond any reasonable doubt that disclosure of the information sought in the instant RTI Application is in larger public interest, a ground to disclose information even after denial from the person to whom it concerns.
The commission directed the DAV college to provide information to the applicant after liaising adequately with the probable holder of information (Chandigarh University). “Further, in the event, copy of degree remains untraceable and/or unavailable; the same should be stated by the CPIO on an appropriately filed affidavit to be sent to the commission with its copy duly endorsed to the appellant,” he said.