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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Now, IITs come up with their RTI 'shield'

NEW DELHI: Stung by the exposure of admission anomalies in recent years, the IIT system has come up with an innovative method of blocking transparency even as it agreed to give data under RTI on the marks obtained by the four lakh candidates in this year’s joint entrance examination (JEE). It insisted on giving the data only in the hard copy running into hundreds of thousands of pages rather than in the more convenient form of a CD. 

The information seeker, Rajeev Kumar, a computer science professor in IIT Kharagpur, is crying foul. For, the hard copy would not only result in a steep increase in the cost of information (running into six figures) but also make it almost impossible for him to detect irregularities in the latest JEE as he did in the three previous ones by analyzing the electronic data that had then by given to him under RTI. 

As a result of this change in the strategy of the IIT system, central information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi fixed a hearing for November 6 specially to resolve this soft vs hard debate. The hearing follows the unusual reasons given by Gautam Barua, director of IIT Guwahati and overall in-charge of JEE 2009, for his failure to comply with the CIC’s disclosure direction passed on July 30. 

In his first mail to CIC on October 2, Barua said that as there were a number of RTI applications seeking the CD, “we are apprehensive that this request for electronic data is to profit from it by using it for IIT JEE coaching purposes (planning, targeting particular cities, population segments, etc).” 

The reference to the coaching institutes is reminiscent of the recent controversy over the move to raise the bar on 12th class marks to be eligible for IIT selection. 

Asserting that IITs had “nothing to hide regarding the results”, Barua said, “We are ready to show the running of the software with the original data to the CIC, if it so desires.” 

As a corollary, Barua made an issue of the fact that Kumar “has not asked to see the data, but he wants an electronic version delivered to him. Why is this so?” Kumar responded to that by pointing out that the irregularities he had uncovered in the JEE of the previous three years was on the basis of “compute intensive scientific calculations and analysis, which could not have been done just by looking at the data.” 

Barua’s explanation in his subsequent mail on October 3 is: “By seeing, I meant that the appellant could come to IIT Guwahati and view the data, see the software being run, etc.” He added that if this option was unacceptable to CIC, “we will wish to provide the data in hard copy form, the costs of printing having to be borne by the appellant.” 

If Kumar is pressing that the data be given to him “in the form in which it is originally available”, it is because the access to the electronic data of the previous three years helped him unearth, for instance, the shocking fact that general category candidates got into IITs after scoring in JEE as little as little as 5% in Physics and 6% in Mathematics.

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