The Gujarat High Court on Friday quashed a seven-year-old order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) asking the Gujarat University to provide information on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Allowing the Gujarat University’s appeal against the CIC order, Justice Biren Vaishnav also imposed a cost of Rs 25,000 on Kejriwal and asked him to deposit the amount within four weeks to the Gujarat State Legal Services Authority (GSLSA).
“This court finds that the CIC while passing the impugned order was well aware that what it was directing was not a specific and certain but a fishing and roving enquiry,” said Justice Vaishnav in his order. “Accordingly, the petition is allowed and the impugned order (of CIC), dated April 29, 2016, is quashed and set aside,” said Justice Vaishnav in his order.
Justice Vaishnav also refused to stay his order as requested by Kejriwal’s lawyer Percy Kavina.
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The HC observed that despite the degree in question being put on the website of the university for all to see, and Kejriwal never ever disputing the degree in question either during the pendency of these proceedings or even during final hearing, he has persisted with the matter.
This is one more reason to impose costs while allowing this petition, the HC order said.
“This court finds that the question of whether education qualifications are personal information or not is no more res integra and already stands authoritatively settled by the Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Subhash Chandra Agarwal (Supra),” it said.
“In the said judgment, the Constitution Bench of the apex court has unequivocally held that personal professional records, including qualification, performance, evaluation reports, ACRs, disciplinary proceedings, etc. Are all personal information and such personal information is entitled to protection from unwarranted invasion of privacy,” the HC said in its order.
The Commission being a statutory authority ought to have kept the aforesaid principles in mind while dealing with the oral request of Kejriwal and ought not to have made an exception in the present case, the HC said.
Treating the present case as an exception completely justifies the submission of the petitioner (university) that extraneous considerations have gone into the decision making process of the Commission, said the order. “There has been an indiscriminate misuse of the salutary provisions of the RTI Act in the present case for the purposes not contemplated by the legislature while enacting the said Act,” said Justice Vaishnav.
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Expressing surprise that the CIC entertained Kejriwal’s request and issued an order, the court said, “Such requests cannot be made so casually making mockery of the very intent and purpose of the RTI Act.”
The court further observed that Kejriwal “doubtlessly used an appeal against him to kick start and trigger a controversy not falling within the purview of the RTI Act”.
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“Having found both the requests by respondent No.2 (Kejriwal) and the order by the CIC being absolutely causal and having found that neither such request was competent nor such an order could have been passed and keeping in view the salutary object of the RTI Act, this court thinks it fit to allow the present petition with a direction to Respondent No.2 to pay costs,” the HC order said.
Justice Vaishnav said since the CIC was well aware of the fact that the university will face difficulty in searching that information, it did not set any time limit.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said it would appeal against the order.
BJP also took jibe at Kejriwal after the court’s ruling. BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawala said, “Lying & making obnoxious remarks, peddling lies against the chair of the PM has become a fashion & Kejriwal is in strong competition with Rahul Gandhi in this regard. But today, he has been shown his place by High Court! Hope Kejriwal ji doesn’t make scurrilous comments on judiciary like Rahul now! That would count as being literate and yet uneducated.”
During hearing of the case, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta had argued that publishing a student’s degree via the RTI will breach the privacy of the individual while testifying on behalf of the institution on February 9 this year. He also submitted in court that the details of PM Modi’s degrees were already in the public domain, on the university’s website.
(With inputs from agencies)
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