Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi is going to hear an important dispute relating to the Right To Information act. Prof. Rajeev Sharma, a computer sciences professor at IIT Kharagpur has filed an RTI application seeking test scores of all applicants who appeared in the IIT Joint Entrance Examination in 2006. The JEE exam board is stalling the process.
It has been very hard to get complete information on this dispute. Reporting, like it is usually the norm, has been pathetic. Here is what I understand of where this dispute currently stands.
Some irregularities in the JEE exam
The plaintiff Prof. Kumar has been doggedly seeking information about the IIT JEE 2006 examination. He alleges irregularities in calculating which students made the cut. In fact, the Calcutta High Court is currently hearing a case on this very issue. The court asked the IITs to submit the formulae used to calculate applicants who are offered admits. The IITs have submitted several different formulae on different occasions. Moreover, they destroyed all answer sheets before they were supposed to.
Soft-copy versus hard-copy
Now, let’s come back to the RTI application that that IITs have not yet responded to. Times of India has reported that this is an issue of soft-copy of data versus hard-copy. The paper reports that the IITs have offered to provide printouts of the data (running to tens of thousands of pages) at cost to the plaintiff. This clearly would be ridiculous.
However, I am not sure if this is the case. Prof. Gautam Barua, Director of IIT Guwahati, who is also responsible for the entrance examinations, responded to me that the dispute was not one of hard or soft copy, but one of privacy. I could not reach the reporter and got no response from Prof. Kumar. So, I have to give the IITs the benefit of doubt.
Prof. Barua claimed to me that the IITs offered to provide the data after removing personally identifying information. In fact, a news report seems to corroborate this claim.
IIT Guwahati Director Gautam Barua has said that he had offered the appellant data for scrutiny with the names made anonymous. IIT Guwahati [...] had refused to provide marks and personal details of candidates on a CD as requested by Prof Rajeev Kumar of IIT Kharagpur.
Releasing personal information of applicants would be ridiculous. However Prof. Barua did not clarify where he stood on the soft-copy issue.
Where it stands now
To me this is such an open and shut case. There is no question that privacy should not violated. There is also no question that information should be provided in the most accessible form, in this case a soft-copy. I don’t know why this has been dragging for so long.
Prof. Barua agrees that they have not provided the application any information yet, and are waiting for the CIC’s hearing. This puzzles me. They could have provided a soft copy of data without private information on their own accord.
Shailesh Gandhi is going to hear this soon. I hope he clarifies one important piece of this issue. The RTI act clearly specifies that information includes electronic data and that citizens have a right to this data in an electronic form or in the form of printouts. The act does not specify that a soft-copy, where available, should be preferred. I hope he does that.
“information” means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force;
["right to information"] includes the right to obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device;