The Indian Institutes of Management may have carved out a niche for themselves for imparting the best management skills in the country but when it comes to parting with information, they seemed to be as reluctant as any staid government office.A Right to Information Act (RTI) enthusiast, Rakesh Kumar Dubbudu found this the hard way. The IIM - Ahmedabad, has just rejected his application filed under Right to Information Act seeking full information on award of contract to Prometric for conducting the online Common Admission Test for the IIMs.
While refusing to provide copies of tender documents, complete file noting and reasons for selecting Prometric over 13 other companies, the IIM, Ahmedabad, took refuge under the exemption clause, Section 8 (1) (d) of the RTI Act. Mr. Rakesh argues that invoking this Section was absurd and in blatant violation of the RTI Act as tender documents were public once the tender was awarded. “They do not hamper the competitiveness as the process is over. In fact they will actually provide the citizens information to evaluate the system of governance and how they arrive at decisions in finalising contracts.”
In support of his argument, he cited the orders passed by the Central Information Commission and the Jharkhand High Court in similar cases. The CIC had held that a “contract with public authority cannot be categorised as ‘confidential’ after completion…. Had it been a case of quotations, bid or tender or any other information prior to conclusion of a contract, it could be categorised as trade secret, but once concluded, the confidentiality of such transactions cannot be claimed…."
The Jharkhand High Court Bench in its judgement said: “Prima facie, we are of the view that once a decision is taken in the matter of grant of tender, there is no justification to keep it secret. People have a right to know the basis on which the decision has been taken … tender documents cannot be kept secret, that too, after tender is decided and work order is issued.... If the authorities refuse to disclose the very purpose of the Act will be frustrated.."
Disappointed with the response from the premier institute, Mr. Rakesh has filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission besides the First Appeal. “The elite institutes cannot behave in a way that is detrimental to the spirit of RTI. The contract after all involves huge public money.”