The Central Information Commission (CIC) on Tuesday had directed the Central Board of Secondary Examination (CBSE) to allow inspection of class 10th and 12th school records of Union Minister Smriti Irani, rejecting CBSE’s contention that it constituted “personal information”. The latest development in the issue, that has been repeatedly brought up, has put the controversy out in the open once again just days after Information Commissioner MS Acharyulu’s removal from the charge of HRD Ministry.
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Acharyulu’s order allowing inspection of Delhi University’s 1978 BA degree records was made public last week. He had on December 21 last year ordered inspection of DU degree records of 1978. This is the same year Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to DU, had got his degree.
What is the latest development in the issue involving the CIC?
In the latest direction to the CBSE, the office of Union Minister of Textiles and the Holy Child Auxilium School, Delhi, from where she claimed to have passed out, have also been directed by the Commission to provide the roll number or reference number of Smriti Zubin Irani to CBSE, Ajmer, which possesses the records for the years 1991 and 1993 “to facilitate search from huge records which is yet to be digitised.”
Similar to DU’s explanation regarding provision of information, CBSE had argued that the information was “personal” and thus cannot be disclosed. The Commission, however, rejected the argument and directed the CBSE to “facilitate inspection of relevant records and provide certified copies of documents selected by the appellant free of cost”. Acharyulu further said it is not correct to say that once a student passes an examination and qualifies to secure a certificate or degree, information about result will be his personal information.
Who is MS Acharyulu?
MS Acharyulu is an Information Officer who, on December 21, had ordered inspection of DU degree records of 1978, the year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the university, had got his degree. The Central Public Information Officer of DU claimed that the information requested was treated as “personal information of the students concerned” and that “the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest”. To this Acharyulu said, “With regard to question whether disclosure of such identification related information causes invasion of privacy, or is that unwarranted invasion of privacy, the PIO has not put forward any evidence or explained possibility to show that disclosure of degree related information infringes the privacy or causes unwarranted invasion of privacy”.
What is the issue about?
The controversy surrounding the educational qualifications of the former HRD minister goes back to 2014, when it emerged that Smriti Irani had made contradictory declarations in her affidavits in the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 and 2014. In June 2015, a case was filed by freelance writer Ahmer Khan, who accused Irani of providing contradictory affidavits about her educational qualifications during different elections.
What were the contradictions in the affidavit that blew open the controversy?
According to Ahmer Khan’s complaint, Irani, in her affidavit for the April 2004 Lok Sabha polls, said that she completed her B.A in 1996 from Delhi University (school of correspondence). In another affidavit to contest the Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat, she stated that her highest educational qualification was B.Com Part-I from the School of Correspondence, DU, claimed Khan. Khan also claimed that in the affidavit for nomination for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Amethi, Irani said she had completed Bachelor of Commerce Part-I from School of Open Learning, DU. A Delhi court took cognizance of complaint against Smriti Irani, though she labelled the allegations as baseless. Both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party demanded her resignation. She was also embroiled in another controversy following claims she supposedly made regarding having a degree from Yale University. She later clarified that her statements were ‘miscontrued’ and that she had got a certificate for her participation at the university’s leadership programme.
What were the reactions following the complaint?
Both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party demanded her resignation. Following the Delhi court’s cognizance of the complaint, Congress said if Smriti Irani didn’t tender her resignation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should remove her from the Union cabinet. Senior Congress leader Ajay Maken claimed that Irani’s continuation as the HRD minister would influence the probe.
“If she remains the education minister, will it not create a conflict of interest? Will she not be able to influence the probe since the Delhi University is under the jurisdiction of her ministry? How can one hope that the truth will come out in that case…How can one hope to get justice,” Maken asked.
Randeep Surjewala of the Congress had said that it has become “apparent that the HRD Minister is lying about her own education”. “What will happen to the future of millions of children in the country,” he asked. Surjewala claimed that Irani had no “moral, constitutional or legal right to continue in her post even for a day”.
The CPM had also joined the clamour for Irani’s resignation, saying she had “lied” to the Election Commission and she had to come clean on the issue.
“The court saying the complaint against Smriti Irani is maintainable is a serious charge. The HRD minister has to come clean on the issue, which she has not. She told a lie before the Election Commission. You expect a member of the Union cabinet to be honest,” said CPM Poliburo member Brinda Karat.
In March last year, the Election Commission and the Delhi University were ordered, by a Delhi court, to bring the documents related to records of educational qualification of Smriti Irani to the poll panel. In October last year though, the Patiala House dismissed the case against Irani stating that there was a “11-year delay in filing the complaint” and the lack of original documents available with the Delhi University.