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LI asks BCI chairman MK Mishra why he’s trying to hide BCI minutes: Listen to his response

BCI: Needs more sunshine & transparency
BCI: Needs more sunshine & transparency

During the tenure of ex-BCI chairman and solicitor general Gopal Subramanium, the BCI published the minutes of its meetings on its website, during a time it painstakingly managed to reduce the number of accredited law schools to around 800 from 913.

Subramanium’s short-term successor, Ashok Parija, said that the BCI would continue the tradition in the interest of transparency, as did his successor, Manan Kumar Mishra, in numerous verbal promises made to Legally India since 2012.

The minutes have remained hidden away in the BCI’s offices, and also resisted an attempt by Legally India to obtain them under RTI in 2012, when the BCI had requested us to come to the office to inspect them but never confirmed a date when called by phone for one.

Since the end of Parija’s tenure, primarily under Mishra’s watch, the Bar Council’s Legal Education Committee has accredited around 400 law schools in two years, growing the total number in India to around 1,200, although the BCI is not able to give an exact number.

A new attempt

BCI's invitation to inspect all requested documents
BCI's invitation to inspect all requested documents

Under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Legally India reporter Prachi Shrivastava applied to the Bar Council of India (BCI) on 20 October 2014, asking for, from 2011 to date:

  • minutes of the BCI’s executive committee,
  • minutes of the legal education committee,
  • minutes of any All India Bar Exam (AIBE) committee,
  • a list of law colleges whose affiliation has been cancelled by the BCI,
  • a list of law colleges that have been re-affiliated by the BCI,
  • a list of all law colleges whose inspection is due as at the date of the letter.

The BCI replied on 19 November (letter on the right), inviting Legally India to come and inspect the documents at its premises on 12 December 2014.

Legally India’s Kian Ganz and Shrivastava visited the BCI last Friday, 12 December, and after a brief wait in a second floor conference room in the BCI’s offices, were given a stack of complete legal education committee (LEC) minutes from 2011 to date.

After beginning to take scans of the pages with a mobile phone, in order to publish the minutes online, we were stopped by a BCI staff member, and referred to the BCI secretary, Jogi Ram Sharma, who said that the chairman of the BCI, Manan Kumar Mishra, had explicitly forbidden Legally India from taking copies of all documents. Mishra was re-elected to the BCI as chairman in November 2014 after he stepped down in March 2014.

However, Sharma said that we could make photocopies of any documents that we selected. We said that we wanted to select all the supplied documents before us; Sharma denied the request, so we asked to allow us to take the issue up with BCI co-chairman Mishra directly to come to a solution.

When we met Mishra, sitting in his office on the BCI building’s first floor with several lawyers, he said the BCI would not disclose the documents.

We asked to audio record Mishra at that moment, to get his reasons on the record for publication.

Mishra: Against 'mischief'
Mishra: Against 'mischief'

Mishra explained that he had “apprehension because of your past” and Legally India’s “nuisance and unncessary criticism of BCI”, and that Legally India had “oblique” motives in seeking the documents, and was seeking to “malign the image of the counsel”.

After further questioning, he said that Legally India had “done some mischief” in the past and would do so again with such documents, by selectively quoting parts of the minutes.

When told that we were planning to publish the entire minutes unredacted and that we’d be happy if the BCI did so itself on its website, Mishra responded that he would but after being asked for a timeline, he said that there were a lot of documents and it would be complicated.

When asked by us what he wanted to hide in the minutes, he accused Legally India of acting on behalf of Rainmaker, an external contractor hired by the BCI to handle the all India bar exam (AIBE) before Mishra awarded the contract to contractor ITES Horizon in 2012. Legally India has published articles and investigations critical of the transparency of this tender in the past.

[Full disclosure and response: Rainmaker was one of four companies that lost to ITES in the 2012 tender for the AIBE but Rainmaker does not currently have any interest in the AIBE to the best of our knowledge; Rainmaker is one of Legally India’s many arms-length advertisers but there is nor has there ever been any other relationship or agency].

Mishra then also accused Legally India of having applied for the AIBE contract itself but having been rejected by the BCI [Note: no truth to that whatsoever, for the record: neither LI nor anyone affiliated to LI has ever even considered tendering for the AIBE, to the best of our knowledge].

He also accused us of selling study materials for the AIBE [Note: this is entirely correct – Kian has a minority stake in www.Barhacker.in in a joint venture with iPleaders, which has been preparing candidates for the AIBE since 2011 with knowledge, and exam and study techniques. This is 100 per cent legal, to the best of our knowledge.]

Mishra did not change his opinion and told us we should publish the full transcript and recording of our conversation.

After leaving Mishra’s office, we asked Sharma to manually inspect the minutes again in the meanwhile without taking photos, but after conferring with Mishra, Sharma said our request was denied and he would respond to our RTI request in writing in a few days.

We will keep you updated.

Some requests to our readers

If you are a lawyer and care about transparency in your elected, statutory and representative body, please help us. And if you are a journalist or anyone else who cares, please also take in interest.

Print out the document that is linked to here, enter your name, address and date, and include Rs 10 as a postal order, DD or court fee stamp in the envelope, to cover the fees under the RTI Act.

Let us know once you’ve filed it, at and let us know whether you receive a reply in 30 days. We’ll keep your identity confidential if you like.

Audio recording & slideshow (enable captioning for sub-titles)

 

Transcript

Kian Ganz (K): I would like an on-the-record statement for why this is not being disclosed.
Manan Kumar Mishra (M): We have all the apprehension because of your past.
K: Aha. Ok. But that has nothing to do with RTI Act.
M: Nuisance and unnecessary criticism of BCI.
K: This is not true.
M: You pick and choose certain lines [of the minutes to publish]
K: No, we want to publish everything.
M: RTI, whatever relevant things you want, we will supply. But to say, right from 1961 to now, we should supply?
K: No, with all due respect, we requested 2011 to 2014. We got a reply saying you can inspect all those documents. Inspection means that we can take copies of these documents, correct? I do not see why now we have to pick and choose. The point is ...
M: I can not allow you take photographs of the resolution of this.
K: The purpose is to publish everything.
M: The motive [of Legally India] is oblique.
K: There is no oblique motive.
M: No hesitation in saying that in past also you have done some mischief. and again you are going to do certain mischief which Bar Council of India is not going to [inaudible].
M: I have given the answer.
K: Because of 'mischief' you are saying you have no obligation under RTI Act?
M: We'll write to you, whatever is proper under the law.
K: Under the law you are already over the deadline.
M: Whatever is proper under the law in our opinion, we'll answer it.
K: No but under the law already you're late with the deadline, you've already passed the RTI Act deadline, and we have not got a satisfactory response. We've been asked to come here and now you're saying "We don't have to supply this information because we don't like you"?
M: Supreme Court's judgments, whatever their Lordships have laid down...
K: Their Lordships have never said that you can't take photos of documents.
M: Therefore, in the light of Supreme Court judgments, we will answer it, whatever you are entitled to get, you will get.
K: But you can not say, you are not entitled to the document because you do not like us.
M: Whatever we'll say, we'll give it in writing.
K: But this is something that is...
M: This is something that will be tested by the courts of law.
K: This is a policy decision by the Bar Council of India.
M: No question of argument Mr Kian, I'm telling you.
K: No, I just want to understand what is being hidden in these documents that no one is allowed to see them?
M: What is there hidden? Where is there...
K: Exactly, so put them out - upload them all on the website yourself. We don't even want them, we just want them all out there because it is something that has not been publicised in 3 years.
M: All the minutes we are going to publish.
K: Hmm. When?
M: We will give it at our website.
K: When?
M: It's a long [process, there are a lot of documents]
K: We can do it for you. We can take a photograph of everything, it'll take us 1 hour and we're done.
M: We can't supply it to Legally India because it is going to commit mischief...
K: It's not, if you publish them it's the same mischief.
M: You have an interest [in the Bar Exam]
K: We have no interest in the Bar Exam or anything else
M: [You have alliance with some of the agencies - inaudible]
K: You know precisely we have no alliance and you know precisely...
M: [inaudible] therefore we are not going to do it.
K: This is not a reason that actually would stand up in any court and you know that. This is not something, if it was to get challenged, this is not a reason.
M: This is not for you.
K: No, this is also for the CIC to test and everyone else to test.
M: This is for the courts to do.
K: This is something that is also for the public opinion of lawyers. If they see the Bar Council is hiding documents and is not giving them to a publication, which is credible...
M: I am not allowing you, you Legally India, to commit mischief.
K: But that is something, if that's the reason, then any other publication you would supply those documents, that is discrimination. If this petitioner asks [and you supply], and this petitioner [you don't]
M: You ask for a particular document, and we will supply [it]
K: We asked for all documents.
M: But all documents, each and every document...?
K: It's only 500 pages...
M: Legally India, you will pick one line and [publish it]
K: No, we will pick all the lines...
M: We have no ...
K: What is there to hide? Tell us what is there to hide in these documents?
M: All these [pause] nonsense things.
K: This is not nonsense. I'm asking... If everything is transparent, there is nothing that we can hide in these documents. What is the problem?
M: We have a strong proof, we are able to establish that in past also you have done this mischief.
K: What have we established?
M: Your alliance with the Rainmaker...
K: We have no alliance with the Rainmaker...
M: You are hostile to Bar Council of India, that is proved...
K: We report the facts, whether we report about things that happen at the Bar Council or law firms or anywhere else, we just report what we see as facts, that's all that we do. The fact is that there's a lot of things about the Legal Education Committee's working that have not been examined at all. How have 400 law colleges been accredited in the last [2 years].
M: Now no further arguments.
K: Ok, you have stated all on the record, then, this is what we'll be publishing.
[Phone recording restarted after Mishra continues talking]
K: We ask for an RTI response, you tell us, in all good faith we come here because you say we can see all the documents...
M: Whichever is required, we will supply. We allow you to inspect entire records of Bar Council.
K: What is there to hide, why can we not have all the records? What is there to hide?
M: We are not legally bound to do.
K: You are legally bound.
M: Particularly in [light] of the fact, that we have all the basis for saying that you are going to commit some mischief with the [documents].
K: Even if we commit mischief...
M: Even in the past also, you, you you are in the habit of publishing certain study materials, you sell it, and you wanted to have AIBE agency, Bar Council of India denied it, these are the reasons, therefore we are not going to [supply the documents].
K: Even if we are Rainmaker or any other company, legally, RTI Act specifies that this be supplied irrespective of who we are as petitioners. It doesn't matter if we are the worst people on earth and we make mischief, the point is there is a right.
M: Mr Kian - you have recorded? You can publish it.
K: Yes, we will publish it, but this is something you must understand...
M: I hope you'll publish it.
K: Of course we'll publish it.
M: Of course I know!
M: The purpose is malign the image of the counsel, you create certain nuisance, you…
K: Sir, maligining the image of the Bar Council is happening by not giving transparency.
M: This Bar Council of India is not going to allow. We will take you to the Supreme Court also.
K: For publishing the minutes, or publishing this?
M: Whatever we supply, what is [...]. You are talking to the chairman Bar Council of India.
K: I am.
M: I am telling you, you can go to the Supreme Court, we'll answer to your queries. Whatever legally we know, we'll answer it. But you can't compel us.
K: We can't compel you, but we can ask you and you're giving the reason.
M: You can't force us. Because you are a media people, you can't force us
K: It's not about media people. Under the RTI Act, the Bar Council is hiding ...
M: ...to give the agency of AIBE to you, to allow you to publish the study materials, this is the, therefore you are doing all this.
K: This has got nothing to do with that. The question is why is the Bar Council hiding those minutes? What is there to hide?
M: Whatever my statement is there, you should publish everything.
K: Oh, we'll publish the entire thing, don't worry.
M: Because of this mischief, you were denied AIBE, you were denied-- you were...
K: What mischief exactly?
M: we don't allow you to sell [bar exam preparation materials], and still you have been selling!
K: Yes, we are selling bar exam preparation materials. That is absolutely irrespective of anything else.
M: That's all.
K: That's all? Ok, ho gaya.

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