Transparency critical, SC erred

Transparency critical, SC erred

In an order that seems to run against its own stress on the need for transparency in the public examination system, the Supreme Court recently held that marks obtained in the civil services preliminary examinations conducted by the Union Public Services Commission cannot be revealed under the Right to Information Act. A bench of AK Goel and UU Lalit agreed to the UPSC's contention that the disclosure of marks would compromise the integrity of the examination. Explaining the logic behind the order, the bench said in its verdict that the right to information has to be balanced with "public interest including efficient working of the government, optimum use of fiscal resources and preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information". In adopting this logic, the apex court overruled the Delhi High Court, which had accepted the plea of a group of unsuccessful candidates from the 2010 examinations and ordered the UPSC to disclose cut-off marks of all subjects, scaling method, model answers, and the complete results of all candidates.

On the face of it, the order runs contrary to the logic adopted by the Supreme Court itself in its landmark judgement in 2011 in which it allowed the disclosure of the answer-sheets to the examinee under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In that case, the bench had dismissed the petitions filed by different public authorities and upheld the judgement of the Calcutta High Court that held that transparency in public examinations was of paramount importance and that refusal to disclose information would lead to the erosion of public confidence in the system. Among the various examinations conducted by public authorities, the ones conducted by the UPSC are the most coveted ones and require greater transparency because the successful candidates of these examinations go on to hold important positions at the highest levels in the governance machinery.

While arriving at its conclusion in the present case, the Supreme Court has weighed "the need for transparency and accountability on the one hand and requirement of optimum use of fiscal resources and confidentiality of sensitive information on the other" and ruled against the former. This is an erroneous view which can lead to total impunity for the examining authority. The Supreme Court seems to be aware of this and has cautioned that "if a case is made out where the court finds that public interest requires furnishing of information, the court is certainly entitled to so require in a given situation". Unfortunately, to benefit from this small window open to transparency, every time an examinee feels aggrieved by the UPSC, he or she will have to knock on the doors of the court to obtain information about his own performance, which he should be entitled to under RTI.

 

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