New Delhi: The UGC and other public authorities cannot deny clarifications sought by RTI applicants if it is part of their duty to collect that information, the Central Information Commission has said, rejecting the plea of the higher education regulator that explanations cannot be sought under the transparency law.
In several previous decisions, the Commission and high courts have allowed public authorities to reject RTI applications if the applicant is seeking explanations and clarifications.
The arguments given by the Central Information Commission (CIC) and the high courts had been that clarification or probing questions do not fall within the ambit of the definition of "information" under the RTI Act.
Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu made a major distinction in his order in the matter, saying the University Grants Commission (UGC) or any public authority cannot refuse to give clarifications if it is part of their duty.
The CIC has also issued a show-cause notice to an under a secretary-level officer of the UGC who had refused to clarify to an RTI applicant whether a particular course was recognised by it.
The UGC had denied to share the information, saying it can only give information about records held by it and cannot give clarifications under the RTI Act.
Acharyulu was deciding the plea of Ram Kishan Sharma who sought to know the list of UGC recognised courses for career advancement scheme.
"The policy of UGC must be providing clarifications for such genuine academic doubts. Though it appears to be technically right according to section 2(f), it leaves student community in confusion regarding the validity of a course."
"Not informing the validity of a course amounts to an abdication of their duty to inform, as that duty was prescribed by the statute and that is their basic function," he said.
The Information Commissioner admonished the UGC, saying "policy deficit" in the organisation has been exposed by the RTI application.
"In fact, the UGC has to understand the doubts of such students or parents and recognise the need for clarification arising out of such RTI applications and prepare the FAQs accordingly."
"The UGC should entrust a team to scrutinise such requirements out of the RTI applications and continuously increase the number of clarifications under FAQs," Acharyulu said in the order.