RTI Activists Bat for Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu

Activists have urged the chief information commissioner to reveal the reasons behind Acharyulu losing charge of the HRD ministry and have demanded that in the absence of valid grounds, the charge be restored.

New Delhi: Taking strong exception to the manner in which Central Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu was divested of the charge of hearing appeals and complaints related to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) days after he directed the disclosure of information of Delhi University’s degree records from 1978 – the year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to have completed his undergraduate course – a number of RTI activists have urged the Chief Information Commissioner R.K. Mathur to place in the public domain the reasons for Acharyulu’s transfer.

In a letter to Mathur, the activists have stated that the decision to take away the charge of the HRD ministry from Acharyulu was being “widely perceived as emanating from political interference in the functioning of the CIC, since it was taken within weeks of the commissioner’s order allowing for inspection of Delhi University’s BA degree records of 1978, the year Prime Minister Modi completed his undergraduate degree as per his affidavit available on the website of the Election Commission of India.”

The decision, they said, also appears to be sudden since on December 29, 2016, the CIC in its order of allocation of work had allowed Acharyulu to retain the charge of the HRD ministry.

Pointing out that “this perception is extremely worrying as it compromises the autonomy of the Central Information Commission, which has been set up under the RTI Act as an autonomous and empowered institution to dispose matters relating to peoples’ fundamental right to information,” the activists – Anjali Bhardwaj, Aruna Roy, Shailesh Gandhi, Nikhil Dey, Amrita Johri, Pankti Jog, Rakesh Dubbudu, Bhaskar Prabhu, Vijay Kumbhar, Dolphy D’Sousa and Anand Castelino – reminded the head of the CIC that information commissioners have been given the status equivalent to judges of the Supreme Court “to ensure that commissioners discharge their duties in an independent manner”.

Therefore, they demanded that Mathur “place in the public domain the reasons for transferring the charge of hearing appeals and complaints related to the Ministry of HRD away from the bench of Prof. Acharyulu.”

In any case, they also reminded him that under Section 4 of the RTI Act, the reasons for all administrative and quasi-judicial decisions have to be proactively disclosed.

The RTI activists have also urged that in the absence of compelling and valid reasons, Mathur should restore the charge of the HRD ministry to Acharyulu.

The Wire had earlier reported how Acharyulu lost charge of the HRD ministry without being given any valid reasons.

However, undeterred by the Centre’s move to sideline him, Acharyulu has been going about performing his role without any fear.

Only a couple of days before that he had directed the Central Board of Secondary Education to allow inspection of the class 10 and 12 records of union minister Smriti Irani, rejecting the board’s contention that it constituted “personal information”.

The Wire also reported how Acharyulu had directed the office of the union minister of textiles and the Holy Child Auxilium School, Delhi, from where Irani claimed to have finished class 12, to provide her roll number or reference number to CBSE, Ajmer, which possesses the records for the years 1991 and 1993 “to facilitate search from huge records which is yet to be digitised.”

Rejecting the argument that the information was “personal information” and thus cannot be disclosed, Acharyulu had stated: “The Commission directs the respondent authority, the CBSE, to facilitate inspection of relevant records and provide certified copies of documents selected by the appellant free of cost, except personal details in admit card and mark sheet, within 60 days from the date of receipt of this order.”