The Case of a 'Missing' Degree: Information Commissioner Pays the Price
NEW DELHI: Information Commissioner M.S.Acharyulu has learnt that free action in government today has a dire price attached. He has been divested of charge of the Ministry of Human Resource Development two days after news broke of an order issued by him allowing the inspection of Delhi University’s 1978 BA degree records, the year that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to have obtained his graduation degree from DU.
On December 29 an order had given charge of HRD Ministry to Acharyulu. Within days it has been taken away, and does not seem to be a coincidence that the change of mind came with his decision to open the DU records to RTI scrutiny. It might be recalled that the media had reported late last year, that Delhi University had denied sharing this information with one Neeraj who in a Right to Information application had wanted a full list from the University of all students who had obtained degrees in 1978. DU in its response had rejected the RTI with, “personal information of the students concerned, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest”.
Acharyulu and hence the Information Commission had in a fresh decision, ruled that the educated of a student and related matters fell under the category of public interest. The Indian Express had reported the Information Commissioner as stating, “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”.
The interest in PM Modi’s graduation degree was sparked off in May-June 2016 by the Aam Aadmi party with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal questioning the claim and Delhi University blocking an RTI application. At that time DU in its response had said that it had the right to safeguard the privacy of every student, and that such information could only be disclosed to a student it concerned.
After a series of tweets by Kejriwal raised the decibels, in an inexplicable move Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and BJP president Amit Shah held a joint press conference where they waved what both said were PM Modi’s graduation and post graduation degrees. They attacked AAP for raising suspicions and demanded a public apology from Kerjiwal.
AAP responded by insisting there were several discrepancies in the documents, and held a press conference to question the authenticity of the degrees. AAP leader Ashutosh said at the time, “The way Shah showed Prime Minister Modi’s Bachelor and Master’s degree was absurd. Shah and Jaitley are not God that they will bring any degree and the people of the nation will believe. The degrees shown by them are fake and forged.” The CM continued to maintain that PM Modi had never enrolled in the University at all.
The controversy seemed to have subsided after a few weeks, but was raised again in December last year through a second RTI that has now impacted adversely on Acharyulu for doing his job. The question thus remains: why? As the RTI has not mentioned the PM but asked for all records of 1978 graduates from DU.