Legal Articles

PM MODI’s DEGREE ROW -Did Information Commissioner Bypass Law?

Can an Information Commissioner (IC) of Central Information Commission (CIC) while hearing a complaint case under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 consider the response given by a “third party (read Arvind Kejriwal)” in that case wherein he raises a demand for information about details of educational qualifications of a totally “unrelated party (read PM Narendra Modi)” in that case as an application under RTI by the former in his capacity as a citizen? Sounds quite strange but the same happened on April 29, 2016 when Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu, an IC did so in Neeraj Saxena v. District Election Officer, GNCTD. Without resorting to issuance of any notice to Modi or even the PMO, the ibid IC straightaway asked the latter to provide the specific number and year of the degree and PG degree to the Delhi University (DU) and the Gujarat University (GU) offices so that it will be easy for them to search and provide any documents relating to it. Also the Public Information Officers (PIOs) of DU and GU were directed by IC to make best possible search for the information regarding degrees in the name of Mr. Narendra Damodar Modi in the year 1978 (Graduation in DU) and 1983 (Post Graduation in GU) and provide it to the applicant Kejriwal as soon as possible. Here it is also pertinent to mention that in the above cited Neeraj Saxena’s case, the same IC on March 18 indeed issued a notice to Kejriwal (being a third party) to respond as the appellant made serious allegations against and vociferously challenged the validity of claim of residential addresses of Kejriwal. In his reply dated April 28, Kejriwal while consenting that he has no objections so as to share all sort of information regarding him also exhorted upon the IC to also do so in case of PM Modi’s degrees’ row too. What a bizarre connection between the two! Be what may, one wonders why the IC after considering and before allowing such weird demand of Kejriwal did not prefer to even issue any notice to PMO if not to Modi in his individual capacity under section 11 of the RTI Act? After all, PM Modi’s degrees fall within the category of his personal information and their genuineness or otherwise has nothing to do with the elite office he is holding. The assertion of the IC that when a citizen holding the position of Chief Ministership wants to know the degree related information of the Prime Minister, it will be proper to disclose, also raises serious questions. Be that as it may, the writer of this piece has since taken an initiative by filing RTI pleas with CIC, PMO and Depatment of Personnel & Training (DoPT) wherein he has demanded all the information as available at their respective ends which empower an IC to exercise power so as to direct any unconnected party in a case to furnish any requisite information concerning him/her to some other party who is though asking or demanding such information but sans following a due procedure stipulated under the RTI Act and even without having formally arraigned the former party (or even his office) from whom such information is sought as a necessary party in that RTI case/appeal/complaint, etc. At the time of writing this piece, the CPIO in the PMO transferred the RTI plea to DoPT’ and the CPIO of DoPT in its reply said that it is beyond its jurisdiction so as to comment upon the order passed by the CIC. As far as the CIC itself is concerned, its response is keenly awaited.

Hemant Kumar
Consulting Editor

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