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NUJS students win access to 1.8GB of long-hidden admin meeting minutes from Madhava Menon times to date (nearly)

NUJS SJA wins fight for minutes that should have been publicly available a long time ago already
NUJS SJA wins fight for minutes that should have been publicly available a long time ago already

NUJS Kolkata has finally complied with part of its duties under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, and supplied to students 240 PDF documents containing meeting minutes of executive, general, academic, finance and standing councils and committees, going as far back as 2000.

The Student Juridical Association (SJA) has now fulfilled the remainder of the university’s legal duty, to proactively make available such minutes, and uploaded hundreds of files to its website, available via Google Drive here.

“It was a fight for transparency that we had been pursuing since the past 5 years. Coupled with online RTIs, we hope this leads to a similar trend across other transparency-phobic national law universities,” the SJA told us in a comment.

Though not an atypical state of affairs at national law schools, very few of which comply with the letter and spirit of the RTI Act, NUJS students in particular had long been frustrated by successive administrations’ excuses in not providing them with the minutes that document the management of the public institution.

The information was finally provided further to a series of Right to Information (RTI) requests filed by a number of students, including current SJA president Arindum Nayak and former SJA president Arjun Agarwal. Students had sent the first requests for minutes all the way back in 2016. NUJS has now responded to a more recent January 2019 RTI of Agarwal’s, following his graduation from NUJS.

According to the SJA, it took “multiple stand-offs” over the last few weeks that ultimately caused the administration to relent and honour the RTI requests.

The electronic cache of documents includes 60 executive council (EC) minutes going back all the way to its fourth meeting in 2000, when Prof Madhava Menon was vice-chancellor (VC) of NUJS, until the 22 December 2018 EC meeting, presided over by interim VC, ex-justice Amit Talukdar (link to SJA’s Google Drive upload of EC minutes).

Also included are minutes relating to at least 28 academic council meetings, 94 finance committee meetings, 14 general council minutes and 42 standing committee meetings.

However, annual general council meeting (GC) minutes post the 18th GC meeting of November 2016, are still outstanding, including the 19th, 20th and the 21st general council meeting, which was most recently held, on 3 February 2019.

Nevertheless, the documents come at an opportune time for a student body that has been seeking to accelerate the appointment of a permanent VC, after a power vacuum created under interim VC Talukdar for nearly a year now.

Students will also be hopeful that the minutes will contain information that could improve the odds of ending up with a competent and independent VC, rather than a pliant state-government appointee.

If you spot anything interesting in the documents, please do let us know in the comments or via Contact Us.

View and download all minutes here.

Transparency-phobia, overcome

The SJA wrote in a celebratory email to its student body earlier today:

Failure to institutionalise transparency norms has been one of our biggest grievances against the University administration since 2014. As the documents attached herewith portray, to overcome this transparency-phobia of the University, we have been filing multiple Right to Information (RTI) applications over the past five years. These range from an RTI by the current SJA President Arindum Nayak as a first-year student to one filed recently by the former SJA President Arjun Agarwal during his convocation. To illustrate that point - students have come into this University filing RTIs and they have graduated filing RTIs without getting any response because the administration, adept at doublespeak, never made the information sought available citing obnoxious, frivolous and technical reasons at various points.

However, over the past week, we had multiple stand-offs and confrontations with the administration regarding this issue (as highlighted in our previous mail for the GB meeting). Finally, after another stand-off today, the Public Information Officer under direction from the Vice-Chancellor and Registrar, agreed to provide us with all the minutes and agendas of all governing bodies of the University - General Council, Executive Council, Academic Council, Finance Committee and Standing Committee - from inception.

Coupled with NUJS becoming the only educational institution to have Online RTI facilities, this has perhaps been our student body’s greatest moral victory towards the cause of transparency since we managed to secure the Review Commission Report from the former Vice-Chancellor after a similar stand-off and RTI around the same time last year (March 24, 2018: Right to Truth).

The minutes and agendas of the governing bodies provide a key insight to the administrative working and decision-making of the University. While the files are enormous, going through these minutes and agendas will give you almost every information you ever needed to know about the University.

We are uploading all the documents on a Google Drive and also on the SJA Website for ease of access. We hope you make the best use of these information (we certainly shall!).

Subject: “Information is a right, not a charity”

On 10 December 2018, the SJA sent the below email reiterating the university’s legal obligations of transparency, copying in the NUJS registrar, copying in the Advocate General of West Bengal, NUJS faculty, the VC and others.

Full SJA email pressuring administration to comply with RTI
Full SJA email pressuring administration to comply with RTI

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