Sunday, January 01, 2017

Gujarat govt body seeks private educational institute nod for providing information on free hike under RTI

By Pankti Jog*
In a surprise reply, the Fee Regulatory Committee (FRC), Government of Gujarat, has refused any information to a right to information (RTI) application filed by one Vinodrai Parmar, an ex-employee of a self-financed institute (SFI) of Vasad, Gujarat, regarding the SFI's fee hike proposal, its expenses and budget.
Parmar says, he was “shocked” when he received a three line reply from the public information officer (PIO), FRC, that the information cannot furnished because the SFI concerned has asked “not to disclose it.”
“These private educational institutes are taking huge sum as fees, yet the staff engaged by them are not paid properly. When we wish to seek information of their expenses, the FRC asks for permission from the SFI, which is denied for obvious reason”, says Parmar.
Parmar says, the SFI where he worked is registered as a charitable society, and submits its accounts to Charity Commissioner every year.
“It works for public cause. How can the FRC classify the SFI's expenses and budget as secret? In fact, it should be directly covered under the RTI, in the same way as grant-in-aid educational institutes”, Parmar, who is fighting for his dues from the Valsad SFI, insists.
SFIs have to submit their proposal on fee amount they wish to collect from their students to the state-sponsored FRC, which is supposed to look into the rationale for the proposed fee, details of the courses run, along with the expenditure done by them over the previous five years. They also have to submit the proposed budget for the next year to justify their demand.
The RTI reply
After analysing the proposal, the FRC either decides on whether to allow permission for fee hike. Notably, most SFIs in Gujarat demand huge fees for academic courses, and in return they claim of giving best quality of education and facilities. Yet, little is known in public domain about their functioning.
“Information regarding expenses and budgets of SFIs is not a third party information in the first place. Secondly, the PIO is not supposed to seek permission from any third party, but has to just seek opinion and then give decision with reasons why the information cannot be disclosed”, Harinesh Pandya, an RTI expert, says.
“In this case, the PIO of the FRC seems to be working at the mercy of the SFI, protecting the latter's interests, and this is a complete violation of the Law”, he adds.
In fact, says Pandya, “The information sought by Parmar falls into the proactive disclosure provision. Once decision of allowing fee hike is taken, the entire proposal, annexures, discussion held by FRC on the proposal and the final decision should be uploaded on the website.”
“This is mandatory as per section 4(1) b of the RTI Act. FRC in this case is completely misinterpreting the law. Here, the PIO, after 11 years of enactment of the law, is not aware of the basic provisions of RTI, which is unacceptable”, he adds.
Meanwhile, Parmar has filed an appeal with the First Applet Authority, demanding disclosure of information he had sought from the FRC.
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*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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