New Delhi, April 17: The grin and excitement of Rakesh Pratap and his friends said it all — a victory in their battle for more transparency in the process that selects those who run India.
Delhi High Court today asked the Union Public Service Commission — the body that conducts the civil services examinations — to shun its “bureaucratic mindset” and “transparently reveal examination details” to candidates.
The UPSC is yet to decide whether to appeal before the Supreme Court. If it does not appeal, it has to give the information in 15 days.
Upholding a judgment of the Central Information Commission — the Right to Information Act watchdog — asking the UPSC to reveal the details, the high court rubbished the exam-conducting body’s plea for secrecy.
“There can be no ground for secrecy in this matter. The UPSC’s position as the premier exam-conducting body in the country will in no way be compromised by the information sought being made public,” Justice B.D. Ahmed said, delivering the judgment.
Some 2,000 candidates had asked the UPSC for details, including cut-off marks for various categories (general and reserved) and subject-wise marks obtained in a preliminary exam last year.
Their application, filed under the RTI Act, was dismissed by the UPSC on the ground that the information sought was “sensitive”, and revealing it could hurt the examination process. The students then appealed to the information commission. Several hearings saw the UPSC change its tack again and again, as each argument it put forward was dismissed by the information commissioners.
Finally, a full bench of the commission, all five information commissioners, decided the UPSC had no ground to withhold the information sought, especially in the light of glaring discrepancies in the papers.
In the preliminary stage multiple-choice papers, for example, the commission found several instances where students were asked to choose between four options, none of which were correct.
The UPSC argued the questions with erroneous answers had not been considered in the final evaluation of students, but the commission held that transcripts of corrected answer sheets be made available to the students. It also held that cut-off marks and the scaling process, that the UPSC argued it needed to hold close to its chest, had to be revealed.
The UPSC approached the high court and obtained a stay on the disclosure of the information, prolonging an agonising wait for the students.
“Our future depends on the UPSC being forthright with the information sought. All we want is to know, with confidence, that we did not merit a place in the final list,” said Pratap.
Though the UPSC can file an appeal, celebrations have started — and they aren’t limited just to students.
Today’s judgment is being considered by the commission as critical to its own future, too. The UPSC had questioned the commission’s competence in dealing with the case. None of the five information commissioners are lawyers, it had argued before the high court. The commission was “unnecessarily taking a confrontationalist stance”, the UPSC had contended.
“This judgment will also help us in future cases involving exam transparency,” said an information commissioner.
Once the UPSC is made to comply, other institutions — the IITs, IIMs and universities — will have a weaker case for denying information, he said.