The UGC and other public authorities cannot deny elucidations sought by RTI applicants if it is a part of their obligation to gather that information, the Central Information Commission has said, dismissing the plea of the higher education regulator which stated that clarifications cannot be sought under the transparency law. In a few past decisions, the Commission and high courts have permitted public authorities to dismiss RTI applications if the candidate is looking for clarifications and elucidations.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has given the contention, and the high courts had been that elucidation or examining questions do not fall within the ambit of the meaning of "information" under the RTI Act.
Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu made a unique distinction in his order on the matter, saying the University Grants Commission (UGC) or any public authority cannot decline to give elucidations if it is a part of their responsibility.
The CIC has also issued a show-cause notice to a secretary-level officer of the UGC who had declined to elucidate to an RTI applicant on whether it recognized a particular course.
The UGC had denied sharing the information, saying it can just give information about records held by it and can't give clarifications under the RTI Act. Acharyulu was deciding the plea of Ram Kishan Sharma who sought to know the list of recognised courses by UGC for career advancement scheme.
He said that the policy of UGC is to provide clarifications for such genuine academic questions. Despite the fact that it seems, by all accounts, to be right as indicated by section 2(f), it leaves student community in perplexity regarding the validity of a course.
Acharyulu said that the increase in the number of RTI applications looking for such elucidations reflect on public authority prompting to an inference that the UGC is not legitimately imparting to the public about the validity of courses and degrees. He mentioned that the applicant has paid Rs. 10 as RTI fee, creating a responsibility on the UGC to respond. Hence, the authority should not deny giving clarifications.
He further added that the UGC could not overlook that they recognise universities/institutions and their courses after examining the compliance with recommended guidelines.
Acharya also mentioned that the Commission is astonished at the way public authority is failing to clarify an academic doubt. The UGC being an academic regulatory has a statutory obligation to educate/instruct the people about the courses/degrees and their validity as commanded by law.
Issuing a show-cause notice to the Central Public Information Officer of the UGC, Acharyulu directed the higher education regulator to clarify why it should not be ordered to pay costs/compensation to the appellant.