The Gujarat High Court yesterday quashed the order of the Central Information Commission (CIC) whereby it directed the Gujarat University to disclose details regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The Court noted that the purpose of Kejriwal is ostensible which is politically vexatious and motivated instead of being based on sound public interest considerations.

The Court further held that the case neither pleads nor establishes the existence of any public interest and therefore imposed a fine of Rs. 25,000/- on Kejriwal.

A Single Bench of Justice Biren Vaishnav observed, “As explained in the judgment of the Supreme Court, the term “public interest” would not mean matters where "public is interested”. There can be certain matters where public may develop interest out of curiosity. Such interest has nothing to do with “public interest” which is the test required to be applied under Section 8(1)(e) and (j). The present case neither pleads nor establishes existence of any public interest.”

The Bench said that the information i.e., the educational degree of any individual can be sought using RTI Act only when there is a pleading, which is proved by the applicant, and thereafter satisfaction is reached by the authority under the Act that “public interest” requires disclosure of such information.

“… there is no provision under the RTI Act whereby the Commission is empowered to take suo motu cognizance of any oral request made before it at an appellate stage. This court is of the view that Commission which is a mere creature of statute could have exercised only such powers and functions which have been expressly entrusted to it by the Statute”, the Court further said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared on behalf of the petitioner while Senior Advocate Percy Kavina and Advocates Devang Vyas and Shivang M Shah appeared on behalf of the respondents.

Brief Facts -

A writ petition was filed by the petitioner i.e., the Gujarat University seeking appropriate writ and order for quashing the order dated April 29, 2016, passed by the CIC. The case of the petitioner was that the Information Commissioner [IC] of the CIC while hearing an appeal filed by a third party (Neeraj Saxena) for the supply of information about the transportation request of the Electoral Photo Identity Card of Arvind Kejriwal, passed an ‘adjunct order’, whereby, it suo moto took up an oral request of Kejriwal, converted the same into an RTI application and allowed the said application by directing disclosure of the educational degree of the Prime Minister.

The CIC order came a day after Kejriwal wrote to Commissioner, saying he has no objection to government records about him being made public and wondered why the commission wanted to hide information on the PM’s educational qualifications. In May 2016, the then Vice Chancellor of Gujarat University announced that Modi completed his MA in Political Science in 1983 with 62.3 percent as an external student.

The Court after hearing the contentions of the counsel noted, “This Court fails to comprehend the justification or the legal foundation on the basis of which the Commission has arrived at the said finding. The said decision of the CIC, in the opinion of the court is contrary to the legal position and is therefore set aside. This court holds that in absence of any larger public interest, which is neither pleaded nor raised, the educational degrees of Sh Narendra Damodardas Modi are exempted from disclosure under the provisions of section 8(1)(e) and (j) of the RTI Act.”

“In absence of any inherent or suo moto powers being vested in the commission by the RTI Act, the Commission could not have entertained an oral request and suo moto converted it into an RTI application; that too at an appellate stage. The Commission, in the opinion of this court, has, in a very callous and cavalier manner entertained the oral request of Respondent No.2 and has passed statutory directions/orders completely trivialising the statutory jurisdiction vested in it”, observed the Court.

The Court asserted that it is unbelievable that an authority exercising quasi-judicial powers at the second appellate stage would exercise the powers in such a manner.

“… it is clear transgression of the jurisdiction vested upon the Commission under the provisions of RTI Act making the impugned order dated 29.04.2016 completely unsustainable in the eyes of law. In the opinion of this court, it appears that the Information Commissioner has lost sight of the distinction between judicial commission and public forum”, also asserted the Court.

The Court said that 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.

“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. The same is evident from the fact that commission provided no time limit being fully cognizant of the difficulty which would have been faced by the petitioner in searching the information in question. … Treating the present case an exception completely justifies the submission of the petitioner that extraneous considerations have gone into the decision making process of the Commission”, the Court held.

The Court further held that such requests by Kejriwal cannot be made so casually making a mockery of the very intent and purpose of the RTI Act.

“The Respondent No.2, doubtlessly used an appeal against him to kick start and trigger a controversy not falling within the purview of the RTI Act for the objects and purpose this court need not go into. … this court thinks it fit to allow the present petition with a direction to Respondent No.2 to pay costs”, noted the Court.

The Court concluded 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 the final hearing, he has persisted with the matter and this is one more reason to impose costs.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the petition, quashed the order of CIC, and directed Kejriwal to pay a cost of Rs. 25,000/- to be deposited with Gujarat State Legal Services Authority within four weeks.

Cause Title- Gujarat University v. M Sridhar Acharyulu (Madabhushi Sridhar) & 3 others

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