The Right to Information Act, 2005, contains several exemptions which enable public authorities to deny requests for information. RTI Annual Return Reports for 2005-2010 give detailed information on use of these exemptions to reject RTI requests. Exemptions to requests for information under the Act are primarily embodied in three sections – section 8, section 11, and section 24. Section 8 lists nine specific exemptions ranging from sovereignty of India to trade secrets. Sec 11 provides protection to confidential third party information. Sec 24 exempts certain security and intelligence organizations from the purview of the Act. Of these, sections 8(1)(j), 8(1)(d) and 8(1)(e) are respectively the three most frequently invoked exemptions for the period 2005-2010, cumulatively amounting to almost three-fourths of all exemptions invoked. Section 8(1)(j) provides protection to personal information of individuals from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked over 30,000 times during 2005-2010, which amounts to almost 40% of all invocations of exemptions. Among ministries, the Finance Ministry has invoked this sub-section the most, followed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Section 8(1)(d) provides protection to trade secrets and intellectual property from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked almost 15,000 times during 2005-2010, which constitutes 18% of all invocations of exemptions. As with sec 8(1)(j), the Finance Ministry has utilized this exemption the most, followed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. Section 8(1)(e) provides protection to information available to a person in his fiduciary relationship from disclosure in the absence of larger public interest. This exemption was invoked 11,639 times during 2005-2010, which accounts for almost 15% of all invocations of exemptions. The Finance Ministry has invoked this exemption more than any other ministry, both overall and for each individual year during 2005-2010. The Finance Ministry accounts for more than 50% of all invocations of this exemption, having invoked it over 6000 times. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is second, with a little over 1000 invocations of this exemption. Ministry-wise Rejections As discussed above, Finance Ministry has a large number of rejections, perhaps because of the larger number of requests that it receives. It is also possible that the Finance Ministry receives a larger number of requests related to private and confidential information (such as Income Tax returns) as well as those which are held in a fiduciary capacity (such as details of accounts in nationalised banks). Adjusted for the number of requests received, the Finance Ministry tops the rejection rate at 24%, followed by the Prime Minister's Office (12%) and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (11%).
On June 13, 2022, the West Bengal government passed a Bill to replace the Governor with the Chief Minister, as the Chancellor of 31 state public universities (such as Calcutta University, Jadavpur University). As per the All India Survey on Higher Education (2019-20), state public universities provide higher education to almost 85% of all students enrolled in higher education in India. In this blog, we discuss the role of the Governor in state public universities.
What is the role of the Chancellor in public universities?
State public universities are established through laws passed by state legislatures. In most laws the Governor has been designated as the Chancellor of these universities. The Chancellor functions as the head of public universities, and appoints the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Further, the Chancellor can declare invalid, any university proceeding which is not as per existing laws. In some states (such as Bihar, Gujarat, and Jharkhand), the Chancellor has the power to conduct inspections in the university. The Chancellor also presides over the convocation of the university, and confirms proposals for conferring honorary degrees. This is different in Telangana, where the Chancellor is appointed by the state government.
The Chancellor presides over the meetings of various university bodies (such as the Court/Senate of the university). The Court/Senate decides on matters of general policy related to the development of the university, such as: (i) establishing new university departments, (ii) conferring and withdrawing degrees and titles, and (iii) instituting fellowships.
The West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 designates the Chief Minister of West Bengal as the Chancellor of the 31 public universities in the state. Further, the Chief Minister (instead of the Governor) will be the head of these universities, and preside over the meetings of university bodies (such as Court/Senate).
Does the Governor have discretion in his capacity as Chancellor?
In 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Governor was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, while discharging duties of a separate statutory office (such as the Chancellor).
The Sarkaria and Puunchi Commission also dealt with the role of the Governor in educational institutions. Both Commissions concurred that while discharging statutory functions, the Governor is not legally bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. However, it may be advantageous for the Governor to consult the concerned Minister. The Sarkaria Commission recommended that state legislatures should avoid conferring statutory powers on the Governor, which were not envisaged by the Constitution. The Puunchi Commission observed that the role of Governor as the Chancellor may expose the office to controversies or public criticism. Hence, the role of the Governor should be restricted to constitutional provisions only. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2022 also mentions this recommendation given by the Puunchi Commission.
Recently, some states have taken steps to reduce the oversight of the Governor in state public universities. In April 2022, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed two Bills, to transfer the power of appointing the Vice-Chancellor (in public universities) from the Governor, to the state government. As of June 8, 2022, these Bills have not received the Governor’s assent.
In 2021, Maharashtra amended the process to appoint the Vice Chancellor of state public universities. Prior to the amendment, a Search Committee forwarded a panel of at least five names to the Chancellor (who is the Governor). The Chancellor could then appoint one of the persons from the suggested panel as Vice-Chancellor, or ask for a fresh panel of names to be recommended. The 2021 amendment mandated the Search Committee to first forward the panel of names to the state government, which would recommend a panel of two names (from the original panel) to the Chancellor. The Chancellor must appoint one of the two names from the panel as Vice-Chancellor within thirty days. As per the amendment, the Chancellor has no option of asking for a fresh panel of names to be recommended.