The Gujarat High Court on Friday imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, citing how the AAP convener had persisted with the matter about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s degree certificates from Gujarat University despite them being public since 2016.
“Despite the degree in question being put on the website of the petitioner university for all to see and despite this fact being made expressly clear with precision in the pleadings before this court and despite the respondent never ever disputing the degree in question either during the pendency of these proceedings or even during final hearing, the respondent No 2 (Kejriwal) has persisted with the matter. This is one more reason to impose costs while allowing this petition,” the HC said in its judgment.
The court said there had been an indiscriminate use of the salutary provisions of the RTI Act in this case for purposes not contemplated by the legislature while enacting the said Act.
“In the present case, the manner in which a request came from (Arvind) Kejriwal, who was neither an applicant nor an appellant and was merely a respondent before the CIC, leaves much to be desired. Such requests cannot be made so casually making mockery of the very intent and purpose of the RTI Act,” the high court said in its detailed order.
The Gujarat University had put the prime minister’s degree certificate on its website immediately in 2016, while challenging the order of the CIC in principle as it has lakhs of degrees with it in a fiduciary capacity and is not governed by the RTI Act. The university went to the HC to quash the CIC’s order and said such a demand was made by Kejriwal to politically sensationalise the issue.
Government sources told News18 that Prime Minister Modi’s degree certificates were available in the public domain at two places – in his affidavit filed while contesting the 2014 elections when Kejriwal had contested against him from Varanasi. Since 2016, the certificates have also been available on the website of Gujarat University. Still, Kejriwal had persisted with the matter till the HC.
The HC noted that in light of the legal position laid down by the Supreme Court, educational documents including degrees fall within the ambit of personal information of a citizen, disclosure of which is exempt under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. Further, this information is held by the universities and boards in fiduciary capacity on behalf of their students, which is again exempt under the Act.
The HC order also noted that the CIC in its impugned order has come to the conclusion that the information sought was neither in public interest nor relatable to accountability or transparency in discharge of public functions performed by Modi as the PM of India.
The solicitor general of India also pointed out before the HC that the degree in question is that of the person holding the position of prime minister of India and, therefore, in principle, the university has/had no objection in making the degree public. In observance of the highest degree of fairness and transparency, it has on May 9, 2016, also uploaded it on its website. This clearly suggests that there is no intention on the part of the appellant (the university) to withhold any information, the solicitor general argued.