Public authorities cannot deny clarifications sought by RTI applicants if it is part of their duty

Central Information Commission (CIC): “The UGC and other public authorities cannot deny clarifications sought by RTI applicants if it is part of their duty,” observed CIC while rendering relief to a person seeking clarification regarding validity of a course conducted by IGNOU for the purpose of career advancement scheme. The order which was distinctive from the earlier orders of the Commission, was pronounced while hearing an appeal filed by a person who sought:

(a) the details and the list of appropriate education programmes of comparable quality specified or approved by the UGC for the purpose of career advancement scheme etc, and

(b) whether the training programme for “script development for preparing audio video tapes” conducted by IGNOU New Delhi is specified or approved by the UGC as appropriate continuing education programme of comparable quality as mentioned in career advancement scheme of UGC.

The UGC had refused to disclose the information; on the ground that it can only give information about records held by it and cannot give clarifications under the RTI Act. During the proceedings, CIC was surprised at the way the public authority was refusing to clarify an academic doubt and noted that the UGC being an academic regulatory has statutory duty to inform/educate the people about the courses/degrees and their validity. It is the core function and power of the UGC to prescribe standards and recognize universities/institutions and their courses, and thus they have a responsibility to clarify. The policy of UGC must including providing clarifications for such genuine doubts. This is such clarification, that none other than UGC can give.

CIC added that the authorities have to read the RTI Act with the UGC Act, and any conclusion without reading these two enactments together would lead to undue denial that amounts to abdication of UGC’s duty to inform, which was prescribed by two statutes that being its basic function. “The Public Authorities generally plead that Section 4 is not directly enforceable by the Commission, but the information sought in this appeal is supposed to be voluntarily disclosed under Section 4 of the RTI Act. They denied when same was sought under Section 3. A citizen’s RTI request necessitates enforcement of the right by the Commission. Thus, the UGC or any public authority cannot refuse to give clarifications if it is part of their duty,” CIC noted. CIC also issued a show-cause notice to the official of UGC who had refused to disclose the required information. [Ram Kishan Sharma v. PIO, UGC, 2016 SCC OnLine CIC 13355, decided on September 27, 2016]

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