While there was great hope with the historic August 2011 Supreme Court (SC) judgment, which ordered that copies of answer sheets should be given to students under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, a later SC judgment of 2018 has somewhat diluted the hopes of students who seek them for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams.
Here’s a central information commission (CIC) judgement last week that would possibly be a disappointing trendsetter for hundreds of students who might want to have a relook at their answer sheets.
RTI applicant Megha Joshi appeared for the UPSC examination in 2022. She filed an RTI on 26 May 2023. On 22 June 2023, the central public information officer (CPIO) replied with a denial of information. Ms Joshi filed her first appeal on 7 July 2023 and her second appeal on 13 September 2023. The CIC hearing occurred on 30 October 2023.
Ms Joshi, in her RTI application, stated that “I was a candidate for Civil Services Examination (CSE) 2022 conducted by UPSC. My details for this examination were as follows: Name: MEGHA JOSHI Date of Birth: xxxxxx Roll Number: xxxxxxxx.”
Since she found that her marks of essay paper–1 were very low, she requested the CPIO of UPSC to provide her with the following information:
* Provide me certified copies of all the pages of my answer booklet of essay paper - I in respect of my roll number xxxxxxxx.
* Provide me model answer script used by the UPSC in the evaluation of my answer booklet of essay paper
* Inspection of my original answer booklet of essay paper-1; place, time, and date on which I can visit to physically inspect my original answer booklet of essay paper-1; and; contact details of the person in UPSC who would be facilitating physical inspection of my answer booklet of essay paper-1.”
The CPIO, citing the 20 February 2018 Supreme Court order on disclosure of raw marks and evaluated answer sheets in UPSC vs Angesh Kumar & others, denied the information. He, however, crosschecked and told Ms Joshi that there was no mistake in the correction of her answer sheet and replied:
I. No part of any answer has been left unvalued.
II. The answer book used is intact.
III. There is no totalling error.
IV. There is no clerical error of any other kind.
The first appellate authority (FAA), who Ms Joshi appealed to, replied: “The CPIO is appropriate to the extent information available with him, no direction is required to the CPIO hence upheld.”
At the second appeal hearing on 30th October, Ms Joshi was present through an audio conference while the CPIO, Kiran Arora, under-secretary, was present in person.
The CPIO argued on the basis of the Angesh Kumar judgment of 2018 of the SC.
He brought forth the following problems as narrated in the SC judgment;
(i) Problems in showing evaluated answer books to candidates is as under:
• Disclosing answer books would reveal intermediate stages too, including the so-called ‘raw marks’ which would have negative implications for the integrity of the examination system.
(ii) The evaluation process involves several stages.
• Awards assigned initially by an examiner can be struck out and revised due to (a) totalling mistakes, portions unevaluated, extra attempts (beyond prescribed number) being later corrected as a result of clerical scrutiny; (b) The examiner changing his own awards during the course of evaluation either because he/she marked it differently initially due to an inadvertent error or because he/she corrected himself/herself to be more in conformity with the accepted standards, after discussion with head examiner/colleague examiners; (c) Initial awards of the additional examiner being revised by the head examiner during the latter’s check of the former’s work; (d) the additional examiner’s work having been found erratic by the head examiner, been rechecked entirely by another examiner.
(iii) The corrections made in the answer book would likely arouse doubt and perhaps even suspicion in the candidate’s mind. Where such corrections lead to a lowering of earlier awards, this would not only breed representations/ grievances, but would likely lead to litigation.
(iv) A feeling of the initial marks/revision made being considered harsh when looking at the particular answer script in isolation could arise without appreciating that similar standards have been applied to all others in the field. Non-appreciation of this would lead to erosion of faith and credibility in the system and challenges to the integrity of the system, including through litigation.
(v) With the disclosure of evaluated answer books, the danger of coaching institutes collecting copies of these from candidates (after perhaps encouraging/ inducing them to apply for copies of their answer books under the RTI Act) is real, with all its attendant implications.
(vi) With disclosure of answer books to candidates, it is likely that at least some of the relevant examiners also get access to these. Their possible resentment at their initial awards (that they would probably recognise from the fictitious code numbers and/ or their markings, especially for low-candidature subjects) having been superseded (either due to inter-examiner or inter-subject moderation) would lead to bad blood between additional examiners and the head examiner on the one hand, and between examiners and the Commission, on the other hand. The free and frank manner in which head examiners, for instance, review the work of their colleague additional examiners, would likely be impacted. Quality of assessment standards would suffer.
(vii) Some of the optional papers have very low candidature (sometimes only one), especially the literature papers. Even if all examiners’ initials are masked (which too is difficult logistically, as each answer book has several pages, and examiners often record their initials and comments on several pages with revisions/corrections, where done, adding to the size of the problem), the way marks are awarded could itself be a giveaway in revealing the examiner’s identity. If the masking falters at any stage, then the examiner’s identity is pitilessly exposed.
(viii) UPSC is now able to get some of the best teachers and scholars in the country to be associated in its evaluation work. An important reason for this is no doubt the assurance of their anonymity, for which the Commission goes to great lengths. Once disclosure of answer books starts and the inevitable challenges (including litigation) from disappointed candidates starts, it is only a matter of time before these examiners who would be called upon to explain their assessment/award, decline to accept further assignments from the Commission. A resultant corollary would be that examiners who then accept this assignment would be sorely tempted to play safe in their marking, neither awarding outstanding marks nor very low marks, even where these are deserved. Mediocrity would reign supreme and not only the prestige, but the very integrity of the system would be compromised markedly.”
CIC Saroj Punhani remarked, “It is essentially clear that the Supreme Court, while arriving at the decision of precluding disclosure of marks obtained by candidates in UPSC civil services exam, has also assessed the aspect of disclosure of answer books.” Hence, she denied relief.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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".)