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Gujarat HC quashes order to give Modi's degree details to Kejriwal, AAP to appeal

Source: PTI   -  Edited By: Hemant Waje
Last updated on: March 31, 2023 20:33 IST
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The Gujarat high court on Friday set aside the 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.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes a metro ride in Bengaluru on March 25, 2023. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

While noting that both Kejriwal and the CIC were "absolutely casual" in their approach, the court also observed there was "indiscriminate misuse" of the RTI Act in this case.

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.

"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.

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."

"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.

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.

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 in the division bench.

"With this judgement, citizens have lost their right to seek information about the PM's degrees. The cost imposed on Kejriwal, who was a respondent in this case, also came as a surprise for us. Since we are not satisfied with this judgement, we will soon approach a division bench against this order," said AAP Gujarat's legal cell president Pranav Thakkar.

In April 2016, the then CIC M Sridhar Acharyulu had directed the Delhi University and the Gujarat University to provide information to Kejriwal on the degrees that Modi received.

Three months later, the Gujarat high court stayed the CIC order after the varsity approached it against that order.

The CIC order came a day after Kejriwal wrote to Acharyulu, saying he has no objection to government records about him being made public and wondered why the commission wanted to "hide" information on Modi's educational qualifications.

Based on the letter, Acharyulu directed the Gujarat University to give records of Modi's educational qualifications to Kejriwal.

In May 2016, the then Vice Chancellor of the Gujarat University, MN Patel, had announced that Modi completed his MA in political science in 1983 with 62.3 per cent as an external student.

During the past hearings, the Gujarat University vehemently objected to the CIC's order saying "irresponsible childish curiosity" of someone cannot become public interest under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

During the last hearing held in February, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the university, claimed there was nothing to hide in the first place because information about PM's degrees is "already in public domain" and the university had also placed information on its website on a particular date in the past.

However, Kejriwal's advocate Percy Kavina had claimed the information was not available in public domain and defended his client's demand saying, "No one is above the law".

Citing exceptions granted under the RTI Act for not complying with the order of the CIC, Mehta had also argued that the RTI Act is being used for settling scores and to make "childish jabs" against opponents.

Citing some past judgments of the Supreme Court and by other high courts about the exemptions granted under section 8 of the RTI Act, Mehta also said that one cannot seek someone's personal information just because one is curious about it.

Mehta had further argued that as per section 8 of the RTI Act, a university can refuse to divulge information regarding its students to a third person because of the "fiduciary relationship", a relationship of trust between a trustee and a beneficiary.

According to Mehta, one cannot seek private information not related to a person's public activity.

"Just because the public is interested in it, it cannot become public interest. Courts' interpretation has established that educational qualification is personal information, whether it is of a politician or any other person,” argued the solicitor general in the last hearing in February.

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Source: PTI  -  Edited By: Hemant Waje© Copyright 2023 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.