Slamming the University Grants Commission (UGC) for making the right to information (RTI) applicant wait for two years during which time it pushed his RTI application from one department to another, 16 times over, the central information commissioner (CIC) observed this delay “as a blatant error and wilful violation of the provision of the RTI Act and that of the public authority.”
Rajiv Khatri, the RTI applicant, sought certified copies under RTI, as follows: 1) Mechanism of grievance redressal for faculty members of affiliated private self-financing colleges of universities under the list of universities of UGC. 2) Standard operating procedure (SOP) of processing of a complaint. And; 3) Name and address of the authority to forward the complaint in case of non-action of the complaint.
CIC Anita Pandove, who conducted the hearing of the second appeal on Monday, observed that, “on the basis of the proceedings during the hearing, the commission is extremely irked to note that the onus of replying to the instant RTI application is being shifted across different divisions of UGC. The commission expresses severe displeasure for displaying such lackadaisical approach.”
The only saviour, she said, is that at last the name of the authority was spelt out in the 16th round of shifting the responsibility from one department to another, by the UGC. Hence, she has ordered UGC’s education officer Vamsika C, who is in charge of the grievance cell, to “provide a revised and categorical reply to the appellant within 15 days from the date of receipt of this.”
UGC is a statutory organisation of the government of India by an Act of Parliament in 1956 for the co-ordination, determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in university education.
A university included in the UGC’s ‘list of universities’ under Section 2 (f) of the UGC Act, 1956, must first fulfil various rules, norms and standards as stipulated from time to time by the UGC. It is mandatory that all the universities under the list of universities under Section 12 (f) must have grievance redressal system for the faculty and staff members of the affiliated colleges including private self-financing colleges of state university.
This is not the first time that the UGC has been slammed by the CIC. Earlier, the CIC had called the highest educational regulatory authority of the country, a ‘post office’ as it did not share information under RTI about a case of cheating against a deemed university.
CIC observed that the UGC was ‘vehemently defending’ the institution which was allegedly involved in issuing invalid medical degrees.
Former CIC Prof Sridhar Acharyulu had, during his tenure, stated that UGC cannot refuse to give information or any clarification if it is a part of its duty. Earlier, a CIC order as well as the High Court had stated that information or clarifications do not come under the definition of ‘information’ under the RTI Act.
In another order, a CIC had also issued a show-cause notice to an under secretary-level officer of the UGC who had refused to clarify to an RTI applicant whether a particular course was recognised by it. CIC also once had slammed the UGC for lack of transparency related to deemed universities.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)