Central Board of Secondary Education & Anr. v. Aditya Bandopadhyay & Ors.

After reading this landmark judgement, the readers will become aware of their right to inspect answer books after having written exams and that there exists no fiduciary relationship between the Examination Boards and examinees.
CITATION(2011) 8 SCC 497
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice R.V. Raveendran and Justice A.K. Patnaik
DATE OF JUDGEMENT09.08.2011

Introduction

The present case deals with the appeal made by the Central Board of Secondary Education (or CBSE) against a judgment passed by the Calcutta High Court. It deals with the issue that whether Exam Boards, like the Central Board of Secondary Education have a “fiduciary” relationship with the students who take the examination under these Boards. In addition, it discusses whether answer scripts can be defined under as “records” or “documents” under Section 2 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The Respondent in this case was a student who had appeared in the 12th Standard examinations of 2008. According to the Respondent, he had correctly written most of his answers and thus he deserved more marks. Hence, he had asked the Board to show him a copy of his corrected answer sheet. The CBSE denied the Respondent on grounds that their Bye-Laws prohibited such action, and also that they were exempted under Section 8(1)(e) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 as they held a “fiduciary” relationship with the students.

The High Court at Calcutta however, after hearing both sides gave a decision in favor of the 1st Respondent contending that corrected answer-sheets of a candidate appearing a public examination conducted by statutory bodies like CBSE  being a ‘document, manuscript record, and opinion’ fell under the ambit of “information” as defined in section 2(f) of the RTI Act. The Central Board of Secondary Education preferred an appeal against the decision of the High Court in the Apex Court.

Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether or not an examinee’s right to information under the RTI Act includes a right to inspect his evaluated answer books in a public examination or taking certified copies thereof.
  2. Whether or not an examining body holds the evaluated answer books “in a fiduciary relationship” and consequently has no obligation to give inspection of the evaluated answer books under section 8(1)(e) of RTI Act.
Also Read  Kaliyaperumal & Anr. v. State Of Tamil Nadu

Contentions of the parties

The Board before the Hon’ble Court contended that allowing such order would result into violation of its Examination Bye-Law 61(4), which clearly mentioned that no candidate shall be entitled to re-evaluation of answer books or disclosure/inspection of answer book. The Board also contended that the High Court erred in its decision as it failed to observe the decision of the Apex Court in Maharashtra State Board of Secondary Education v. Paritosh B. Sheth [1]Parmod Kumar Srivastavav. Chairman, Bihar PAC[2], Board of Secondary Education v. Pavan Ranjan P[3]Board of Secondary Education v. S[4] and Secretary, West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education v. I Dass [5]. It also further contended that they were exempted from disclosing such information as they were in a “fiduciary” relation with the Respondent and thus were exempted under Section 8(1)(e) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

In response, the opposite counsel for the Respondent contended that the object of the RTI Act was to ensure maximum disclosure of information and minimum exemptions from disclosure. It was further contended by the respondents that the CBSE does not hold any fiduciary relation in regard to the candidate and therefore cannot avail exemption under Section 8(1)(e) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The Respondents also put emphasis on Section 22 of the RTI Act which states that:

“22. Act to have overriding effect.—The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (19 of 1923), and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.”

They thus contended that the provisos of the RTI Act will prevail over the Bye-Laws of the CBSE with respect to Examination Bye-Law 61(4).

Summary of court decision and judgment

The Hon’ble Court after hearing the Contentions of both the sides upheld the order of the Hon’ble High Court, thus dismissing the appeal by the board. The Court held that corrected answer-sheets of a candidate appearing a public examination conducted by statutory bodies like CBSE  being a ‘document, manuscript record, and opinion’ fell under the ambit of “information” as defined in section 2(f) of the RTI Act. It also held that the Board was not in a “fiduciary” relation with the candidate and thus would not be exempted under Section 8(1) (e) of Right to Information Act.

Also Read  Yeswant Deorao Deshmukh v. Walchand Ramchand Kothari

The Apex Court directed the examining bodies in general and the CBSE in the present matter to permit examinees to have an inspection of their answer books

Analysis

In the present case, reliance can be made on the judgment of the Apex Court in State of Uttar Pradesh v. Raj Narain [6] wherein the Court had observed that:

“In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can, at any rate, have no repercussion on public security.”

Additionally, in Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India[7] and People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India[8] the Court upheld the same ratio.

Black’s Law Dictionary (7th Edition, Page 640) defines ‘fiduciary relationship’ as:

A relationship in which one person is under a duty to act for the benefit of the other on matters within the scope of the relationship. Fiduciary relationships – such as trustee-beneficiary, guardian-ward, agent-principal, and attorney-client – require the highest duty of care. Fiduciary relationships usually arise in one of four situations : (1) when one person places trust in the faithful integrity of another, who as a result gains superiority or influence over the first, (2) when one person assumes control and responsibility for another, (3) when one person has a duty to act for or give advice to another on matters falling within the scope of the relationship, or (4) when there is a specific relationship that has traditionally been recognized as involving fiduciary duties, as with a lawyer and a client or a stockbroker and a customer.”

Also Read  S.K. Shukla & Ors. v. State Of U.P. & Ors.

The Court thus correctly held that although it can be widely held that there exists a fiduciary relationship between the Board and its students, like one that exists in between the government and its people, it cannot be interpreted to the extent of exempting the Board from using the privilege under Section 8(1) (e) of the RTI Act.

After having studied and gone through the judgment of the Hon’ble Court as well as the arguments and contentions of the petitioner I am of the belief that the Court’s decision was appropriate and correct. It also conforms to the existing laws and the Court in its judgment gave excellent reasoning for disposing of the appeal by the Board. Further, the arguments raised by the counsel for the appellant were taken up one by one and in a very detailed judgment, the Court did justice to its decision of upholding the Judgment given by the Calcutta High Court.

Conclusion

I am of the view that the Hon’ble Supreme Court while describing the Right to Information Act of 2005 as a “cherished right”, very correctly upheld the decision given by the High Court of Calcutta, thus permitting the examinees to have an inspection of their answer books. In the judgment which was very beautifully brought out, the Hon’ble Court also put emphasis on the fact that it must be ensured that this “cherished” right should not be misused at any costs as arbitrary and unreasonable demands or directions under RTI Act would turn out to be a disaster for the nation as a whole.


[1] 1984 (4) SCC 27.

[2] 2004 (6) SCC 714.

[3] 2004 (13) SCC 383.

[4] 2007 (1) SCC 603.

[5] 2007 (8) SCC 242.

[6] (1975) 4 SCC 428.

[7] (1997) 4 SCC 306.

[8] (2004) 2 SCC 476.