RGNUL PIOs and Punjab and Haryana High Court has rejected students’ RTI requests for copy of enquiry report against former Administrative Officer SP Singh.
Earlier, RGNUL was seen being tight lipped regarding revealing the enquiry report itself. The students had, in turn, challenged the University’s failure to provide the enquiry report before the Punjab State Information Commission.
Two submissions made by RGNUL defending its conduct, which have been recorded by the State Information Commission in its orders are:
- The enquiry report in question is not held by the public authority/PIO of RGNUL and it has no authority to direct its superior authority i.e. the Chancellor. The office of the Chancellor has the enquiry report.
- The RTI request cannot be transferred to the concerned office under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act 2005 as the PIO is not designated there (presumably, the Chancellor’s office).
Pursuant to the Commission’s direction, the PIO of RGNUL eventually filed an affidavit asserting that “no part of the information asked by the applicant in his RTI is pending for reply.“
Finding that this reply is convincing and concluding that no cause of action is left, the Commission proceeded to close the case through an October 26 order.
Pertinently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s PIO also rejected an RTI request for the enquiry report, reasoning that the work done by the Chief Justice in his judicial capacity is distinct from his work as a University Chancellor.
Affirming this stance, the RTI Appellate Authority for the High Court also passed an order last February, observing,
“… queries raised by appellant (RTI applicant) relates to the work/conduct done by the Chancellor of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law and are not with respect to the office of Chief Justice of High Court of Punjab and Haryana and Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, is a separate authority, and if any document relates to that authority, then information can be accessible by that authority and not by any other public authority…. this authority is of view that the queries under consideration prima facie clearly provides that the matter solely relates to the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law which is a separate public authority.”
An appeal preferred against the Appellate Authority’s decision is pending before the National Information Commission.
However, with the State Information Commission now effectively agreeing with the stance that the office of RGNUL’s Chancellor does not fall within the purview of the University’s Public Information Officer, the question left lingering is to whom RTI enquiries pertaining to information with the University Chancellor ought to be addressed.
Or, to raise a larger question, is the Chancellor of a National Law University is exempt from the purview of the RTI Act?
In March 2019, the students carried out protests against administrative apathy to various issues. In particular, they had demanded the resignation of Administrative Officer Singh, alleging long-standing misogyny, casteism and general abuse of power on his part.
Whereas the immediate trigger for the protests was the suspension of six hostel inmates, the scope of the student movement expanded to highlight broader systemic issues.
A formal end to the protests came after the University administration acceded to four key demands by the student body, including an independent probe into the alleged misconduct of Singh by a judicial officer nominated by the University Chancellor.
Singh eventually tendered his resignation, which was accepted in June 2019, although the students only came to know of the same in September that year, after an RTI request was made.
In a resignation letter addressed to the then RGNUL Chancellor and Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court Krishna Murari (now a Supreme Court judge), Singh stated that he has been grossly misunderstood by students and that his conduct as a subordinate was unblemished. Referring to the inquiry proceedings, Singh states that the students had taken him “in wrong sense” and that as a father figure, he should not indulge in proving himself right anymore.
While student representatives welcomed Singh’s resignation, they registered their objection to the reluctance of the administration to disclose the same. In a student statement, it was said,
“We are saddened by the fact that neither Smt. Manjot Kaur nor the RGNUL authorities have bothered to furnish the order to us or our lawyers till date. This was the least we expected having been through turbulent times of going to the Patiala District & Sessions Court almost on a daily basis to give testimony against Capt. S.P. Singh (Retd.) in front of him and his lawyer (with cross- questioning lasting a few hours per student) even mere days before the exams commenced.
What is even more disgraceful is that the University did not even care to notify us of his resignation from the University. We only came to know about the same after we got an RTI filed against RGNUL from a third party”