In a landmark judgment that will change how examinations are conducted in the country, the Central Information Commission has ruled that authorities must usher in transparency and reveal questionwise marks awarded to candidates, under the Right To Information Act.
The ruling will bring cheer to India's large student population, which has been fighting for access to copies of answer sheets ever since the RTI Act was passed.
In March 2006, Treesa Irish from Kerala became the first student to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to see her exam answer scripts. She lost the battle when a full bench of the Central Information Commission ruled that the data she had requested was of a personal nature, and that its disclosure had no relation to any public interest and would therefore be prohibited under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
The CIC also held that the relationship between the exam-conducting authority and the examiner was fiduciary in nature, and therefore information must be kept confidential under section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act.
However, Irish was hardly alone. Students under several education boards across the country have sought copies of their answer booklets under the RTI Act. All failed in their quest, with public information officers conveniently referring to Irish's case as the precedent. That is, until Ajeet Kumar Pathak, a class XII student from Bihar, demanded that the CBSE board provide him details of questionwise marks awarded to him in the chemistry paper.
Here too, the CBSE board stated, ``The larger public interest does not warrant disclosure of such information.'' Pathak then filed his first appeal, which was again defeated, with the authority ruling that ``no candidates shall have the right to obtain questionwise marks''.
But in a dramatic twist, the CIC overturned those rulings. Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who ruled on December 22 that questionwise marks awarded must be shared with the candidate, said, ``None of the exemption clauses in the RTI Act were applicable in this case.'' Gandhi said that this ruling was now ``in principle'' applicable to all authorities conducting examinations across the country.
In Maharashtra too, several students have taken the RTI route to get their hands on copies of their answer sheets. Basanti Roy, divisional secretary of SSC board, said that to date, there has been no provision in the law to part with answer sheets, and that several students had to be turned down. ``But we will wait for orders to flow in from the state government on providing questionwise marks,'' Roy added.
Currently, the Maharashtra State Board for Secondary and Higher Secondary Examination lets students demand verification, which allows for marks to be re-calculated by opening the answer booklets. Verification also helps ensure that all answers have been marked. However, there is no provision for reassessment, which requires the moderator to read through and reassess the content of the paper.
NCERT joint director G Ravindra said that this ruling was in line with the National Curriculum Framework of 2005, which emphasized transparency in conducting examinations. ``NCF 2005 had suggested several exam reforms, including transparency and stress-free exams. However, NCERT is an advisory body, and it was upto boards to implement NCERT recommendations,'' added Ravindra. Karnataka was the only state in the country that decided to go ahead and hand over answer sheets to students.
Educationist and former chairman of the Mumbai board J M Abhayankar said that while the CIC ruling was something to cheer about, boards must be proactive and provide copies of answer booklets. Abhyankar himself had presented a report to the state government on exam reforms in 2002, but it remains on paper.
``I had recommended that the Maharashtra board also give copies of answer booklets to students. But the state did not accept the recommendations under some pressure,'' he said. He added that providing copies of the answer scripts would ensure better evaluation.