On 16th August 2016, The Supreme Court acting on a plea by Kumar Shanu, a native of Bihar and Loyola High School alumni, passed a Landmark decision by directing the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to provide evaluated Answer-sheets to candidates under Right to Information Act, 2005 in compliance with a previous Supreme Court Ruling.
Kumar Shanu and his friend Paras Jain, law students, had filed a Contempt Petition against the Chairman, CBSE in Supreme Court of India for willfully disobeying the judgment passed in the matter of CBSE Vs. Aditya Bandhopadhyay and Ors. They admirably drafted and filed the petition in-person (without assistance from an Advocate). Public Interest Crusader Advocate Prashant Bhushan kindly agreed to represent them before the Supreme Court without charging anything for his services. The petition had arisen from the fact that the Supreme Court had already ruled in 2011 that the answer scripts be made available to students via the RTI Act if a request is made within the period of three months for which the answer-books are maintained by the CBSE. Since an RTI application only requires one to pay Rs. 10 as the application fee and Rs. 2 for each page of information sought, the cost of obtaining a copy of one’s own answer sheet for a student would be much less than what they needed to pay according to CBSE regulations, whereas no fee can be charged from the applicants who fall under Below Poverty Line (BPL) Category.
Earlier, the students had filed an RTI application to know the process of accessing evaluated Answer-sheets. CBSE in response to the RTI application said that it accepted no application under RTI for obtaining the copy of answer-sheets. Students who intended to verify their marks had to pay a fee of Rs. 300. Further, to obtain a copy of the answer book, an additional fee of Rs. 700 had to be paid. It is pertinent to note that these processes were “interlinked”, meaning that no candidate could obtain a photocopy of the answer book without applying for verification of marks. Therefore, candidates seeking copies of answer sheets had to shell out a total of Rs. 1,000 per subject. This forced Kumar and his friend to file a Representation in Public Interest with the Chairman, CBSE to quash this Unfair Rule and implement the law of providing the answer-sheets under RTI. In response to the representation, CBSE signified its inability to do so, as according to them, the process involves high cost.
The bench later questioned the intention of the students and asked them to prove that the petition was in public interest. So once the students produced documents proving their bona fide intention, the bench had a change of heart. Eventually, the bench passed an order directing the CBSE to comply with the 2011 judgment on August 16th, 2016.
While talking to PatnaBeats, Shanu said “CBSE even being an institution responsible for educating a large section of the society refuses to comply the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India. CBSE was blatantly taking away the rights of nearly 50 Lac students every year as it conducts Board Exams, JEE, NEET and NET. The Supreme Court decision shall not only ensure the students get access to their answer-sheets under RTI but it will also help a large number of youngsters learn and use RTI as a tool in the matters involving public authorities. This would help them become responsible citizens of the country”
Kumar Shanu, hails from Mokama. He happens to be son of a traditional farmer. He has been consistently working for mass legal aid and awareness. Shanu has represented people in need before Consumer Courts, central Information Commission and other public authorities. He had established a Legal Aid Cell in his law school and was also elected its President in the years 2012, 2013 and 2014. Shanu and Paras had founded Whistle for Public Interest-WHIP, a group of law students who deal with the issues of Public Importance to promote transparency and accountability in the system.
They had earlier challenged the arbitrary provisions of the Delhi High Court RTI Rules through PIL, argued the matter and got the Rules amended in January 2016. The said Rules are framed by the Chief Justice of the concerned High Court.
NOTE: The said direction is passed against CBSE but it would also be applicable to all the state run institutions of the country.