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Bar exam RTI appeal: BCI flip-flops on service provider tenders; still no financials

Exclusive: The Bar Council of India (BCI) has again declined to disclose detailed information in respect of its contract with the company running the postponed all-India bar exam, following an appeal to an earlier right to information (RTI) request.

However, the BCI has now reversed its response to the original RTI and claimed that it did in fact solicit tenders from competing service providers - Tata Consultancy Services, Sify and Imaging Solutions - before it awarded the contract to Rainmaker.

The 19 October 2010 RTI appeal was filed by 2006 Nalsar Hyderabad graduate and Oxford D Phil student Anup Surendranath, who had earlier filed the original RTI on the conduct of the bar exam.

Original response: No proposals

In the original 10 August 2010 RTI, Surendranath had requested details on the selection process adopted to select service providers, minutes of relevant meetings and the financial terms of any contracts with the winning provider Rainmaker.

In its original response dated 21 September 2010 the BCI had said that “no public notification was issued inviting proposals to partner the Bar Council of India (BCI) to conduct the All India Bar Examination (AIBE), as the direction to implement the AIBE came from the Hon’ble Supreme Court in proceedings pending before it”.

“The Bar Council did not find any companies or organizations which were involved in preparation of legal material and legal knowledge services,” it added, stating that “no organisation/company/institution came forward to submit proposals to partner the BCI to conduct the AIBE or for any other reforms, apart from Rainmaker”.

Response to the appeal: 4 proposals

In the latest BCI response to the appeal dated 23 December however, BCI officiating secretary JR Sharma contradicted part of the earlier version.

“The Bar Council also explored the possibility of enlisting the assistance of IITs/IIMs but since they did not possess relevant expertise on conducting the law examination the Bar Council had to look for other vendors. Kindly have a look at the interview of Hon’ble Chairman on the following link: [Gopal Subramanium interview on Legally India].”

“The [BCI] considered the proposals of the organisations/companies which approached the Council and shortlisted Rainmaker after detailed presentations by the organisations/companies. Those who made such proposals include Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and SIFY Technologies Ltd,” continued the response.

In a later paragraph the BCI response also said that Imaging Solutions Delhi had submitted a proposal.

“The criteria for short listing was expertise in law-oriented solutions along with implementation of concomitant reforms in legal education such as UIN, digitization etc. Rainmaker was appointed to partner by the [BCI] after they represented and warranted that they have requisite domain and expertise in law along with information technology needed to implement legal education reform.”

Financials fiduciary, disclosure not in public interest

As in the original application, the BCI declined to disclose details of the financial arrangement of the deal with Rainmaker although it elaborated slightly.

Invoking the “larger public interest” Surendranath asked the BCI to reconsider its previous position that under section 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act there is no obligation by public authorities disclose any “information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship, unless the competent authority is satisfied that the larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information”.

The BCI responded: “The information is exempt from disclosure as per Section 8(1)(e) of the Right to Information Act, 2005. The money received from the AIBE would be used diligently and meticulously for legal education reforms. The Council is conscious that this is public money. A large part of the money will cover the costs of the All India Bar examination itself.”

“The amounts paid by the Bar Council to the Rainmaker are on account payments and cannot therefore be predicted. The said payments are linked with the number of graduates seeking to appear in AIBE, 2010. The payments are being made out of monies received as application fees.”

The bar exam is currently scheduled to take place in March 2011 after its second postponement.

In December the Supreme Court allowed the BCI’s transfer petition clubbing together six high court writs challenging the bar exam. The next hearing is expected this month.

Download the RTI appeal here.

Download the BCI’s response to the RTI appeal here.

Photo by comedynose

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