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An estimated 13-minute read

Are Private Deemed Universities within the purview of Right to Information Act, 2005?

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Are Private Deemed Universities within the purview of Right to Information Act, 2005?

Introduction

In India there are 130 deemed university, out of which a significant number of them are private.[1] Deemed University status was meant to be conferred to the institutions which have created an excellent work in a particular field, but cannot be granted University due to some reasons.[2] The “mushrooming” of the deemed universities has led to commercialisation of education and growth of below standard educational institutions. Deemed Universities in India has been in the recent controversy for various kinds of irregularities, which includes below standard education, facilities, lower faculty-student ratio, poor management and governance, irregular admission procedure, poor research quality.[3]

The University Grants Commission (UGC) Act 1956 (hereinafter UGC Act) provides for establishment of a deemed university status under Section 3 of the Act, which reads as follows: "The Central Government may, on the advice of the Commission, declare, by notification in the Official Gazette, that any institution of higher education, other than a University, shall be deemed recognized to be a University for the purpose of this Act, and on such a declaration being made, and all the provisions of this Act shall apply to such institution as if it were a University within the meaning of clause (f) of Section 2".

 

Taking into consideration the recent controversy, for transparency it is important to understand and find out whether Right to Information Act, 2005 (hereinafter RTI Act) is applicable on the Private Deemed Universities.[4] The preamble to the Act states, “An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority...” The Right to Information has been guaranteed a fundamental right which arises from two fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution – the right to freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed by Article 19(1) and the right to life, guaranteed by Article 21.[5]  Justice K. K. Mathew of Supreme Court of India in his dissenting opinion said that ‘in a government.... where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people.... have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries.... The responsibility of officials to explain or to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.”[6]

A.    Private deemed Universities are within the purview of “public authority” under Section 3 (h) (d) of RTI Act.

To decide whether Private deemed Universities are within the purview of “public authority” under RTI Act it is necessary to analyse the relevant provisions of the Act. The Section 3 of the RTI Act is as under:

 

"public authority" means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted–

  1. by or under the Constitution;
  2. by any other law made by Parliament;
  3. by any other law made by State Legislature;
  4. by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any–       i.        body owned, controlled or substantially financed;       ii.        non-Government organization substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government;

 

The deemed universities, whether private or public are established by a government notification as required under Section 3 of the UGC Act, which states, “The Central Government may, on the advice of the Commission, declare, by notification in the Official Gazette, that any institution of higher education, other than a University, shall be deemed recognized to be a University for the purpose of this Act,...”

Arguably, the private deemed universities are “public authorities” within the meaning of Section 3 (h) (d) of the RTI Act, which states that “public authority means any authority or body or institution of self- government established or constituted by notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government”.

Further, the word “includes” means that the types of institutions constituted by a government notification “includes” but are not exhaustive in nature and has been provided as an example and better understanding of the scope of the Section and such institutions are not limited to the types of institutions as mentioned under sub- clause (i) and (ii).[7] Thus, even if the institution is not owned, controlled or substantially financed; it can still be brought under the purview of the section of the Act construing the exhaustive nature of the section.

 B.     Information about Private Deemed Universities can be obtained under RTI from UGC.

Certain information pertaining to a private deemed university can be obtained under RTI from UGC. Now, the question is how the same can be achieved. As, the universities, including private deemed university are required to file and return information to the UGC under Section 2 of UGC (Returns of Information by Universities) Rules, 1979, which is as follows:

2.     Returns and Information to be furnished:
Every university shall, on or before the date specified by the University Grants Commission every year in this behalf, furnish the following returns and information to the Commission,namely-

a.     uptodate copies of,

                                      i.        the Act., Statutes and Ordinances concerned;

                                     ii.        rules for grant in aid to the colleges belonging to or affiliated to it;

                                    iii.        rules of the inspection of colleges belonging to or affiliated to it;

b.     reports on the inspection of colleges belonging to or affiliated to it;

c.     minimum working days in the university, period of vacations, examination days and the number of days when actual teaching is conducted exclusive of the days for the preparation for examinations;

d.     where there are admission tests, a note indicating the minimum criteria laid down alongwith admission policy and variations, if any, from the basis specified for admission;

e.     the statistics of the students admitted below the minimum qualifications referred to in clause (d);

f.      residence for students;

g.     residence for staff;

h.     the annual accounts of the university including the audit report;

i.      the total staff strength in different categories with qualifications and research experience. (This could be intimated by the university once in every five years, with changes, if any, to be intimated every year);

j.      student strength at various stages;

k.     teacher pupil ratio;

l.      results of examinations with divisions.

 

 

Explanations:For the removal of doubts it is hereby declared that for the purpose of this rule, the term university means a university as defined in clause (f) of Section 2 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 (3 of 1956), and includes an institution deemed to be a University under Section 3 of the said Act.

Further, the deemed universities are also required to submit certain reports and is subjected to inspection by a committee which can be formed under UGC (Inspection of Universities) Rules, 2009. Deemed Universities are also subjected to inspection under S. 11 as described in Annexure – II , Section. 16, S. 17.1, S. 20 of UGC (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2010. 

11.1 An institution Deemed to be University shall maintain standards, higher than the minimum, of instruction, academic and physical infrastructure, qualifications of teachers, etc. as prescribed for college level institutions by the Commission or by the Statutory Regulatory body concerned, such as All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Medical Council of India (MCI), Dental Council of India (DCI), National Council for Teachers Education (NCTE), Bar Council of India (BCI), Indian Nursing Council (INC), etc. and shall obtain their approval for running various programmes of study, wherever applicable. This shall be periodically monitored by the duly constituted Committee (s) of the Commission.

16.0 Review of the Academic Activities of the Institution Deemed to be University

The functions of the Institution Deemed to be University may be reviewed after a period of every 5 year or earlier, if necessary, by a Committee appointed by the Commission.

17.0 Inspection of the institution deemed to be university by the Commission

i) The Commission may cause an inspection, to be made by such person or persons as it may direct, of the institution deemed to be university, its buildings, fixtures and fittings, laboratories and equipment as also examinations, teaching and other work carried on or done and, if necessary, to cause an inquiry to be made ill respect of any matter connected with the administration or finances of the institution deemed to be university.

ii) The Commission shall, in every case, give notice to the institution deemed to be university of its intension to cause an inspection or inquiry to be made and on receipt of such a notice, the institution deemed to be university shall have the right to make such representations to the Commission as it may consider necessary.

iii) Where an inspection or inquiry has been caused to be made by the Commission, the institution deemed to be university shall be entitled to UGC [Institutions Deemed to be Universities] Regulations, 2010 appoint a representative who shall have the right to be present and to be heard at such inspection or inquiry.

iv) The Commission may communicate the result of such inspection or inquiry together with such advice as it may be pleased to offer as to the action to be taken by the institution deemed to be university to the

Vice-Chancellor who shall communicate the same to the Board of Management.

v) The Board of Management shall give proper consideration to the said communication regarding the result of inspection or inquiry and the proposals for action by the institution deemed to be university and communicate to the Commission the action, if any, which it proposes to take or has taken upon the result of such inspection or inquiry.

vi) Mere the Board of Management does not, within a reasonable time, take any action to the satisfaction of the Commission, the Commission may, after giving due consideration to the explanation furnished or representation made by the Board of Management to it, issue such directions as it may think fit and the Board of Management shall comply with such directions.

20.0 Funds, Accounts. Audits and Annual Report

i) The accounts of the institution deemed to be university shall be maintained in the name of the Institution Deemed to be University and not in the name of the particular Society or Trust,, whether financing or sponsoring the Institute or not. The accounts of the institution deemed to be university shall be kept in such forms as may be laid down by the Board of Management and shall conform to the rules, if any, prescribed by the Commission. The account of the institution deemed to be university shall be open for examination by the Controller and Auditor General of India.

(ii) The annual financial statements and accounts shall be audited by the Chartered Accountant of the institution deemed to be university.

iii) Annual Reports and the Audit Reports shall be submitted by the institution deemed to be university to the Commission within nine months of the closure of the accounting year.


It is clear that huge information regarding a private deemed university is already available with public authorities. `Information’ thus means any material in any form including records etc and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force. Thus, this information can be obtained from UGC under Section 2(j) of the RTI Act which is as under:

 

Section 2(j): "Right to information" means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to—

(i) inspection of work, documents, records;

(ii) taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records;

(iii) taking certified samples of material;

(iv) obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device;

 

The information that can be obtained from private deemed universities includes admission procedure, faculty, courses, financial accounts, results of students, etc.

 

The Supreme Court in Khanapuram Gandaiah v. Administrative Officer[8] has held that under Section 6 of the RTI Act, an applicant is entitled to get only such information which can be accessed by the Public Authority under any other law for the time being in force. In a recent judgment by the full bench of Central Information Commission make the law in this regard more clear. In the case of Bindu Khanna v. Directorate of Education, Govt. of  NCT of Delhi [9] it has been observed that, " The issues relating to management and regulation of schools responsible for promotion of education are so important for development that it cannot be left at whims and caprices of private bodies, whether funded or not by the Government.” The Commission ordered the Directorate of Education to provide information to the appellant about the private school.  

 

Conclusion

Though apparently, private deemed universities seems to be outside the purview of RTI Act, but a close observation of the law and the recent judgments, it is clearly arguable that private deemed universities come under the RTI Act. Not only information about the deemed universities can be obtained from the UGC, but the deemed universities are “public authority” within the meaning of RTI Act. It is high time, that the deemed universities should appoint information officer as required under RTI Act.

 


[1] Report Of The Committee For Review Of Existing Institutions Deemed To Be Universities (2009). Available at http://education.nic.in/HigherEdu/RepoRevCom-DmdUniv.pdf .  Accessed on 02-09-2010.        

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Note: Public Deemed Universities are no doubt “public authorities” under ambit of RTI Act. So, the scope of the article has been limited to private deemed university.

[5] S.P. Gupta v. Union of India 1982 AIR (SC) 149; .Bennett Coleman & Co. v Union of India, AIR 1973 SC 783; State of UP vs Raj Narain AIR 1975 SC 865;

[6] State of UP vs Raj Narain AIR 1975 SC 865.

[7] In, Bharat Co-operative Bank (Mumbai) Ltd. v. Co-operative Bank Employees Union 2007(5) SCALE 57, the Supreme Court has held that when the word 'includes' is used in the definition, as is the case under Section 2(g) of the 1994 Act, the legislature does not intend to restrict the definition; it makes the definition enumerative and not exhaustive, that is to say, the term defined will retain its ordinary meaning but its scope would be extended to bring within the term certain matters which in its ordinary meaning may or may not comprise.;  Donald James Gifford, John R. Salter (1996) How to understand an act of Parliament, Routledge. P. 52

[8] AIR 2010 SC 615

[9] Appeal No.CIC//MA/A/2008/01117 Decision No.5607/IC(A)/2010. Available at http://www.rti.india.gov.in/cic_decisions/5607_IC_A__2010_M_38229.pdf

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