Pune University defies SC order by not showing answer sheets; RTI activist slams legal notice


Are information commissioners killing the RTI Act?

 

Moneylife, VINITA DESHMUKH | 03/04/2013

Although Supreme Court in its verdict in August 2011 ordered that certified copies of answer sheets is public information under the RTI Act, the Pune University continues to adhere by its 2008 circular which defies the spirit ofthe order and therefore amounts to contempt of court

The Ordinance number182 of the University of Pune implemented through a circularissued in 2008 puts stringent terms and conditions in providing answer sheets to a student, which are contrary to the provisions in the Right to Information (RTI) Act. These include: not providing certified copies of answer sheets; students to apply for answer sheets within 10 days of the results; applicant to apply for Photostat copies of maximum three subjects only and; copies to be provided within 45 days through the principal of the college.
In August 2011, the Supreme Court has ruled that evaluated answer sheets are covered under the definition of ‘information’ under the RTI Act. Hence, this overrides any rule or ordinance that an educational institution may have had. (Read—Ultimate victory for students: Supreme Court judgment orders access of copies of answer sheets of all examinations. Like the Official Secrecy Act of 1923, which has been overpowered by the RTI Act, the Ordinance no. 182 of the University of Pune too is as good as non-existent and it is the rules under RTI that are applicable to the University. However, University of Pune continues to dictate its own terms as per its 2008 rules.
Pune-based RTI activist Vivek Velankar received several complaints from students of the University of Pune who are not being provided certified copies of answer sheets in thespirit of the RTI Act. States Velankar, “As per the RTI Act, the University of Pune cannot insist that the student can apply only within 10 days after the examination result. Since the University of Pune preserves answer sheets for a period of six months, the student has a right to apply within this period and s/he cannot be forced to apply only within 10 days as per its Ordinance. Also, the University of Pune HAS to provide certified copies ofanswer sheets and that too within the mandatory 30 days as per the RTI Act.”
Velankar has sent a legal notice last fortnight, bringing to the notice of University of Pune as to why its Ordinance No. 182 is irrelevant after the Supreme Court verdict of 2011which has made answer sheets as public information under the RTI Act. Says Velankar, “We are giving 30 days to the University of Pune to abide by the SC judgment and to scrap its 2008 Ordinance, as continuing to implement it amounts to contempt of court. If it does not do so, we will file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).”

 

Details of legal notice sent on 16th March are as follows: 
NOT PROVIDING CERTIFIED COPIES:
As per Point No. 19 of Ordinance of the University of Pune Rule No. 182 in respect ofanswer sheets which states as under that, “The Certified copies of revalued answer sheets are not provided.’’…above Rule No. 182 of Ordinance issued by the University of Pune is completely contrary to the provisions of the Right to Information Act and to the judgment of Supreme Court of India in the case of Central Board of Secondary Education and Anr Vs Aditya Bandopadhyay and Ors reported in Civil Appeal No. 6454 of 2011. The Supreme Court has thereby ruled that the definition of information in Section 2 (f) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, refers to any material in any form which includes records, documents, opinions, papers amongst several other enumerated items. The term ‘record’ is defined in Section 2(i) of the said Act as including any document manuscript or file amongst others.
When a candidate participates in an examination and writes his answers in an answer book and submits it to the examining body for evaluation by an examiner appointed by the examining body, the evaluated answer book becomes a record containing the ‘opinion’ of the examiner. Therefore, the evaluated answer book is also information under Right to Information Act, 2005. It is further stated that if the rules and regulations of the examining body provide for re-evaluation, inspection or disclosure of the answer books, then none of the principles of the Maharashtra State Board or other decisions following it will apply or be relevant.
“Therefore it is stated that as per the Supreme Court ruling, the word ‘evaluation’ shall mean and include the word re-evaluation and therefore the Rule No. 182 of Ordinance issued by the University of Pune is completely contrary to the ruling of the apex court and hence needs to be necessarily modified accordingly to enable students to get certified copies of their re-evaluated answer sheets. It is stated that, if the mandate of the apex court Judgment is not followed by your institution then this may amount to the contempt of the court as prescribed in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.”

 

APPLICATION TO BE MADE WITHIN 10 DAYS AFTER THE EXAMINATION RESULT:
“It is stated that the Rule No. 182 of the Ordinance issued by the University of Pune also states that the student has to apply for certified copies of their re-evaluatedanswer sheets within 10 days from the date of examination result. This rule is also completely contrary to the aforesaid ruling of the apex court. The Supreme Court of India in the aforesaid judgment makes it amply clear that, “the obligation under the RTI Act is to make available or give access to existing information or information which is expected to be preserved or maintained. If the rules and regulations governing the functioning of the respective public authority require preservation of the information for only a limited period, the applicant for information will be entitled to such information only if he seeks the information when it is available with the public authority. It is stated that, period of University of Pune is of six months and therefore, the student is entitled to make an application for the certified copies of the evaluated answer books within the period of six months and the mandate 10 days time limit as prescribed in Rule 182 of University of Pune Ordinance is completely contrary to the judgment of the Supreme Court of India and therefore, it is required to be modified accordingly. It is stated that, if the mandate of the apex court judgment is not followed by your institution then this may amount to the contempt of court as prescribed in the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971.”

 

REGARDING APPLICATION FOR MAXIMUM OF THREE SUBJECTS ONLY:
“It is stated that, the Point No. 2 of the said ordinance states that the applicant can apply for the Photostat copies of maximum three subjects only. This is also completely contrary to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, as the Act does not provide any such restriction as to how many subjects an applicant can apply for Photostat copies of the answer books. Therefore the said provision/point in your Ordinance No. 182 is also contrary to the RTI Act, 2005, and needs to be modified accordingly.”
REGARDING NOT PROVIDING ANSWER SHEETS OF PRACTICALEXAMINATIONS:
“It is also stated that, Point No 1 of Ordinance 182 provides for the photo copy/copies of assessed and/or moderated theory subject/s answer book/s of the current examinationwill be supplied to the examinee/s. The photo copy/copies of answer books of practicalexamination, sessional marks, marks of viva-voce/dissertation/ thesis/project, Common Entrance Test conducted by University, etc shall not be supplied to the examinee/s. It is stated that as mentioned above, when a candidate participates in an examination and writes his answers in an answer book and submits it to the examining body for evaluation by an examiner appointed by the examining body, the evaluated answer book becomes a record containing the ‘opinion’ of the examiner. Therefore, any evaluated answer book is also information under Right to Information Act, 2005. This makes it very clear that, any evaluation done by the University is also information under RTI Act, 2005 and therefore, the photo copy/copies of answer books of practical examination, sessional marks, marks of viva-voce/dissertation/ thesis/ project, Common Entrance Test conducted by University are also covered under the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. Point No. 1 is completely contrary to the provisions of RTI Act, 2005 and aforesaid judgment of the Supreme Court of India.”
REGARDING PROVIDING INFORMATION WITHIN 45 DAYS OF RECEIVING THE REQUEST:
It is also stated that, Point No. 16 of aforesaid Ordinance 182 states that, “the University shall supply the photo copy/copies within 45 days from the date of receipt of application through the principal of the college concerned”. It is stated that, the aforesaid point of the ordinance is directly and completely contrary to the provisions of Section 7 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, which states that 7. Disposal of request—(/) subject to the proviso to sub-section (2) of Section 5 or the proviso to sub-section (3) of Section 6, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, on receipt of a request under Section 6 shall, as expeditiously as possible, and in any case within thirty days of the receipt of the request. either provide the information on payment of such fee as may be prescribed or reject the request for any of the reasons specified in Sections 8 and 9: 6 This provision mandates the information which is sought has to be provided to the applicant within the maximum period of thirty day and no further extension is allowed by the provisions of the Section 7 of RTI Act, 2005. Therefore, the time period of 45 days is completely and directly contrary to the provisions of RTI Act, 2005, and needs to modify accordingly.
REGARDING UNIVERSITY OF PUNE WRONGLY ABIDING BY ITS OWN ORDINANCE
It is also stated that the RTI Act, 2005, is a central enactment and has to be followed in its true spirit and any provision/ rules made by any public authority contrary to the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005, shall attract the provisions of the Section 22 which reads thus “Act to have overriding effect—the provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act”.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart – Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.

 

Why silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment and loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons ?


Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy

Vol – XLVII No. 22, June 02, 2012, economic and political weekely | Anand Teltumbde

Why has there been such a silence from dalit leaders over the Bathani Tola judgment acquitting all those accused of killing 21 dalits? At the same time, what explains their loud protests over the Ambedkar cartoons in the textbooks? Has the elevation of Ambedkar as an icon relegated the dalit leadership to a politics of empty symbolism? Is the issue of a lack of accountability in the judicial system towards dalits not more important than the hollow iconisation of Ambedkar?

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

Bathani Tola 1996. After 14 years the case was decided by the Ara Sessions Court in May 2010 convicting 23 of the accused; three were awarded the death penalty and 20 with life imprisonment.

The verdict was challenged and the division bench of the Patna High Court delivered its verdict on 16 April 2012, reversing the judgment and acquitting all the accused. The judgment stunned every sensitive Indian who knew the ghastliness of the massacre of 21 dalits in this hamlet in Sahar block of Bhojpur district of the then unified Bihar state on 11 April 1996. It did evoke angry reactions but mostly from family members of the victims at Bhojpur, Gaya, Aurangabad and Arwal, all within 60 km of Patna.

In a ritualistic manner the Nitish Kumar government, accused of disbanding the Justice Amir Das Commission that was instituted by the then Rabri Devi government (March 1998) to investigate the political backing for the notorious Ranvir Sena, issued a statement that the government would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. With that, the massive act of rubbing salt into the wounds of the poor was pushed under the carpet. No television debate, not much media concern or highbrow analysis either!

Another controversy broke out over a cartoon that was drawn 63 years ago by a noted cartoonist of yesteryears, Shankar Pillai ofShankar’s Weekly, which showed Babasaheb Ambedkar sitting on the Constitution depicted by a shell, mounted over a snail and Jawaharlal Nehru with a raised whip behind, all in the public gaze. The cartoon was a part of a Class XI Political Science textbook since 2006 and hence there was something fishy about it being noticed by politicians only now. As the grammar of electoral politics mandates, Kapil Sibal, the union minister for human resource development, with extraordinary sensitivity apologised and asked the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the creator of these textbooks, to withdraw the cartoon immediately. However, the controversy escalated and culminated in the ransacking of the office of Suhas Palshikar of Pune University by some Republican Panther activists who hogged the headlines and prime time on all the television channels.

Notwithstanding the content, at the most basic level these two instances throw up an important question about the attitude of dalits: Why are they moved only by emotional issues and keep ignoring the material issues that impinge upon their existence?

The Ambedkar Icon

The entire dalit emotional charge is concentrated in the Ambedkar icon. Given the monumental contribution of Ambedkar to the dalit cause, it is natural that he is considered as their emancipator, a messiah. Further, given the state of the dalit masses, it is also natural that he is iconised. Ambedkar’s icon replaced their gods and symbolised their self-esteem, honour and prestige. It became their beacon, a rallying point to carry on with their emancipatory struggles. As it did all this, it became susceptible to manipulation by vested interests. The fi rst such manipulation came from within, by a section of college-educated urban dalits who painted it with shades that suited their self-interests. The icon was shorn of Ambedkar’s vision of radical transformation of India expressed, for instance, in States and Minorities and he was portrayed as a caste-based reservationist, constitutionalist, an anti-materialist and mind-centric Buddhist. When electoral politics became increasingly competitive with the rise of the regional parties of the middle castes, the political class realised the importance of the dalit vote bank and used this icon to infl uence dalits.

Suddenly, Ambedkar, who faced ignorance from the mainstream all through his life, became its darling. It began erecting his statues, naming roads and institutions after him and paying eulogies to him. It went on further strengthening this icon in increasingly distorted ways that would distance dalits from reality.

Once entrenched in the psychology of the dalit masses, it became a matter of competitive display of devotion in order to appeal to them. As dalit politics became rent-seeking from the mainstream political parties, many charlatans rushed in as leaders, feigning deep devotion to the Ambedkar icon to claim the support of dalits. The louder one shouted allegiance to Ambedkar, the bigger the leader one became. The more irrationality displayed in devotion to Ambedkar, the better the Ambedkarite. The real Ambedkar was forgotten in this process – Ambedkar, the iconoclast, the painstaking truth seeker, the fearless fighter for the cause of the oppressed, and the universalist dreaming of the world sans exploitation and humbug. It was forgotten that he struggled to solve the existential problems of dalits. Even his decision to renounce Hinduism and embrace some other religion had actually emanated from the need to counter the vulnerability of dalits in villages if one goes by his original explanation in Mukti kon Pathe (“Which way the deliverance”) which basically is about their atrocity-prone existence. And of course, he lamented at the fag end of his life that whatever he did just benefited the urban dalits and he could not do much for the rural folks.

The Cartoon Controversy

It is this iconisation that is behind the cartoon controversy. Without going into whether such a cartoon was necessary to be included in the textbook, given the proclivity of society to negatively interpret it, the fact remains that it was there for the last six years. If it had not caused any problem until now, it was unlikely to do so in the future. One need not accept the explanation provided by Palshikar, one of the advisors to the NCERT, that the cartoon was meant to enliven interest in young minds insofar as it presented a piece of the past before them, and was complex enough to yield various interpretations. But that in no way warrants ransacking his office. It is sad that it was the activists of the Republican Panthers – the radical non-parliamentary outfi t that has forced the overzealous state to incarcerate its members (Shantanu Kamble, Sudhir Dhawale and many others) for their revolutionary profession – who attacked Palshikar. It only shows how deeply internalised the Ambedkar icon is among dalits that it overwhelms even their revolutionary politics.

The controversy was raked up by Mayawati in Parliament, who badly needs to reconsolidate her core constituency of dalits in the wake of the fi ssures that showed up in the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, in order to be prepared for the general elections any time before 2014. It has been the core stratagem of her party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, to make creative use of icons to build and maintain its constituency. Not to be left behind, all other dalit leaders, particularly the more unscrupulous ones like Ramdas Athawale (who has established an alliance with the anti-Ambedkar Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party combine) and Thol Thirumavalavan (the leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (dalit panthers) of Tamil Nadu, who switches from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)to All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to DMK with ease as per the electoral prospects), raised their angry voices. As if there are no issues other than the Ambedkar icon (and of course reservations) to vent their anger!

The increasing misery of the vast majority of dalits in the absence of quality education, falling job opportunities (reservations arguably cater to only a minuscule section and that too the relatively welloff among them), declining public health and general contraction of the democratic spaces are all of no issue to them. Such is the power of the Ambedkar icon that for dalits Mayawati spending Rs 86 crore to renovate her residence or Athawale building a palatial house in a prime location in Mumbai have become non-issues. Even the rising incidents of atrocities which dishonour their women every day and devour their lives have become non-issues!

Dalit Blood, No Issue

The acquittal of all the 23 Ranvir Sena men who butchered 21 dalits in Bathani Tola therefore does not become an issue for the dalit leadership today. Bathani Tola is not a unique case; it only reinforces the pattern formed by many such judgments in other atrocity cases. For example, the Karamchedu (Andhra Pradesh) case went exactly the same way as the High Court of Andhra Pradesh acquitted all the 50 accused. It was only in the Supreme Court, after 23 long years, that one accused was awarded life imprisonment and 30 others were given varying amounts of punishment upto three years. In Khairlanji (Maharashtra), in the wake of a public uproar, the special district court had awarded death to six and life imprisonment to two, which was foolishly celebrated by some dalits leaders who forgot the fact that 35 culprits were already discharged and the court had taken away the very ground for harsher punishment by observing that there was no conspiracy, no sexual violence, and no caste angle. In the infamous Laxmanpur-Bathe (Bihar) carnage by the Ranvir Sena, the verdict of the lower court came after almost 13 years, sentencing 16 people to death, 10 others with life imprisonment and a Rs 50,000 fine, while acquitting 19 for lack of evidence. The pattern indicates that the lower courts, under public pressure, award harsh punishments, the high courts mostly invalidate them and if they are persisted with, the Supreme Court upholds parts of it. The long legal battle, which no ordinary dalit can afford, effectively takes away any justice from the fi nal judgment.

Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Mukul Wasnik recently (17 April 2012) expressed concern over the dismal conviction rate (just 3% to 8%) in such atrocity cases. This exposes how the atrocity cases, which are admitted with extreme reluctance by the police, are deliberately weakened in the investigation or invalidated by non-compliance of rules, mishandled by the prosecution in the courts, and at times perversely adjudged by the courts themselves under political pressure.

In the Bathani Tola case the court rejected the evidence of the eyewitnesses on the weird argument that they could not have been present at the scene. If they had really been there, the court observed, they would have all been killed.

What lies at the root of this malady is the total lack of accountability in such a legal process. Is that not an issue for dalits to agitate against?

When beauty is rendered as a tool to assert and/or negotiate spaces.


by Minakshee Rode

In a place like Pune University, whenever I look around, particularly, at the post graduate students studying English Literature, Caste and gender studies, one question always bothers me: what do we expect our mind-sets to be?

Students are learning just rhetoric and politically correct language specifically in terms of caste. Despite many attempts our educational system is still unable to make them sensitive enough to try to relate the personal with the theory, as students are not ready to unlearn their prejudices and assumptions about the non-Brahmin population.

First generation dalit female students, who have migrated to metropolitan universities from across various classes; have no touch of and knowledge about the casteism disguised in the elitist culture of these universities. This is not very easily visible, but practiced so vehemently in almost each and every classroom of the campus. In this post, I will highlight the negotiations and assertions which dalit girls intentionally and unintentionally have to make in these spaces. These processes sometimes results in higher level of confidence and sometimes it can come across as arrogance of dalit girls. Well, the reception to this change is not pleasant, confidence is treated as arrogance and stigmatized as another instance of negative caste stereotype.

At first if we look at the classroom structure at the Post Graduate level; we can clearly see class based groups are formed irrespective of castes. But slowly caste comes to the fore when the fees have to be paid or the scholarship dates are displayed on the notice board. This period is thoughest for dalit girls who don’t have any visible caste identity, most don’t want to disclose their caste identities. Because of the politically correct atmosphere on the campus, the so called upper caste female students cannot express the unease and plain disgust for fellow dalit students openly, so they slowly start excluding dalit girls from the group (if there are any at all) and activities. Many of us hear this common phrasing of a sentence addressed to us: “you don’t look like your caste or you are different, you don’t represent your caste as such”, from those who make attempts to speak to dalit girls.

So, some very basic questions: what must a dalit girl look like? More importantly what is the image of a dalit girl in their mind? What makes dalit girls so different from other students? After making several efforts at interacting with the upper caste, elite girl students, from all my years on the campus, here are a few responses that I have gathered:

Dalit girls may not be getting married so their parents have sent them here.

These girls don’t have a sense of clothing, have no sense of wearing the right make up, and manners are useless.

They are caught up in the wrong place; and they can never match up to our standards.

They don’t speak politely, and are very direct (rude).

They can speak neither good English nor pure Marathi.

Their eating habits/tastes are gross.

They are not feminine enough.

They don’t belong to our culture.

They are different and so on…

What do these resposnes reveal then ?

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