Saturday, October 10, 2009

IIMs and their best kept SECRET !!!

Note: Open the link and then download the document from Sky Drive for all documents.
The supreme court and the CJI have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. They have been vehemently arguing that they are not covered under RTI. The IIMs are following suit. IIMA replied to my RTI application.







In their reply, they said the following;
1. The contract and other documents cannot be given since they are barred under Sec 8(1)(d) of the RTI act.
2. The HRD ministry is not funding this.
3. 14 companies applied for the contract.

Sec 8(1)(d) of the RTI act says,
"(d) information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information"

The reply cannot be more absurd. I immediately filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission and also filed a 1st Appeal. Important portions of the complaint are as follows,

"This complaint is as per Sec 18(b), 18(e) and 18(f) of the RTI act.

I filed an RTI application with CPIO of IIMA on 5th September 2009 which was received by the CPIO of IIMA on 9th September 2009. The information requested was regarding the awarding of contract of Ms Prometric for Conducting Online CAT and relevant tender copies submitted by all bidders. The CPIO of IIMA refused to provide information to points 3,4,5 and 6 of my application citing Sec 8(1)(d) of the RTI act. I would like to bring to your notice that this is a blatant violation of the RTI act and is completely contrary to the norms set by the Honourable CIC and the Jharkhand High court in these cases. Tender documents are public documents once the tender is awarded. They do not hamper the competitiveness since the process is over. They actually provide citizens information to evaluate the systems of governance and how they decide on such contracts. The Jharkhand High court Bench in its judgement on 8th August 2007 (a copy of the judgement is attached to this complaint) has categorically stated that tender documents are no more a secret once the tender is finalised. They have to be in the public domain and Sec 8(1)(d) does not apply.

Even in an earlier order of the CIC - Appeal No CIC/WB/C/2006/00176 (a copy is attched) the commission has stated the following,

“A contract with a public authority cannot be categorised as “confidential” after completion. Even if some confidentiality is involved, public interest in a matter of the nature of the present case will warrant disclosure. Had it been a case of quotations, bid or tender or any other information prior to conclusion of a contract, it could be categorized as trade secret, but once concluded the confidentiality of such transactions cannot be claimed. Any public authority claiming exemption must be put to strictest proof that the exemption is justifiably claimed.”

Even the Jharkhand High court bench Judgement says the same thing,
“Section 8(1)(d) is relevant so far instant case is concerned which, inter alia, provides that the authority may refuse to give information relating to commercial confidence, trade secret or intellectual property, disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information. The question, therefore, that falls for consideration is as to whether disclosure of various documents submitted by the bidders is a trade secret or commercial confidence or intellectual property. 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. If tenders are invited by the public authority and on the basis of tender documents, the eligibility of a tender or a bidder is decided, then those tender documents cannot be kept secret, that too, after the tender is decided and work order is issued on the ground that it will amount to disclosure of trade secret or commercial confidence. If the
authorities of Government refuse to disclose the document, the very purpose of the Act will be frustrated. Moreover, disclosure of information, sought for by the petitioner, cannot and shall not be a trade secret or commercial confidence; rather disclosure of such information shall be in public interest, inasmuch as it will show the transparency in the activities of the Government.”


This is a contract involving huge amount of Public Money (to the tune of 40 Million USD as per news reports). The IIMs being the best management institutes of the country cannot hide in the veil of secrecy. This does not augur well for the country or its elite institutions and will definitely have an effect on the kind of students it trains that will take this country into the next generation."



There are two interesting things to note here,
1. Its common sense that tender and bid documents are public documents once the tender is finalised. Then why did the IIM make this basic mistake? Is there pressure from somewhere?
2. If the HRD ministry is not funding this, then where are IIMs getting money from? Specially when the number of CAT Takers has come down to nearly 2 Lakhs. The application fees for CAT gives the IIMs only 28-30 crores. Then where is the rest of the money coming from?


These are questions the IIMs need to answer. Its upto them if they want to hide in the veil of secrecy specially when they say they are the best.


They may be the best in the business, but their "Best kept Secret" will not hide for long. There is a constitution in this country and they will have to fall in line sooner than later.


Use RTI !!!

12 comments:

Harish Peddi said...

Yes Rakesh. This question certainly needs to be answered by the IIMs. As you rightly said, this is not just about the money but had a wrong path been chosen in awarding the contract to an agency to conduct this prestigious examination, there will be a very good chance that the agency tries to influence the selection process, causing injustice to the deserving aspirants.

Truly appreciate your work in this regard.

suresh ediga said...

Rakesh,

It would be interesting to see how IIM's respond to your second appeal.

Kiran&Jaya said...

The reply from IIM shows their inertness to answer any questions. When Delhi Jal Board can disclose the tenders why can't IIM do ? They feel they are accountable to NO ONE since money is not coming from HRD (as per their claim). Rakesh, is it true that the reason for selecting Prometric doesn't come under RTI purview ?

Rakesh said...

@ Kiran & Jaya: Where the money comes from is irrelevant. The IIMs have to provide the information and they will do so soon. This is to show what the so called elite institutions do in the garb of transperancy.

Regarding the reason for selecting prometric, we will get all the reasons from the file notings of the relevant tender file. What they mean in the reply is that questions cant be asked under RTI. I asked reasons for selecting prometric, so they categorized it as a question. The reasons for selecting prometric will anyway be clear in the file notings.

Paresh Masade said...

Article in Hindu

http://www.hindu.com/2009/10/16/stories/2009101659690700.htm

Paritosh said...

Hey Rakesh,

Did you get any reply from the IIMs after you appeal? BTW, its a brave step you took, even before the CAT was bungled up by Prometric.

Paritosh

Rakesh said...

@Paritosh: After the appeal, they started telling a new story. They are now ready to give the documents of 9 companies, but not prometric. I appealed to the central information commission. They will have to put everything out at the end of the day. Truth shall prevail.

Manoj Bharadwaj said...

@Harish: I do not think that the agency (prometric) will deliberately try to influence the selection process. They are, after all, the same ones who conduct GRE with which almost everyone who gave it are impressed!
@Rakesh: Is there a conflict of interest if IIM provides the tender details of prometric? The disclosure perhaps would leak certain information (about pricing etc.) that might impact the competitiveness of Prometric in the market (since it is a private company, it has the right to safeguard such information).
I have also heard from more than one quarters that Prometric perhaps is the only organization with the proven capability of handling such a scale of students (though it screwed up CAT big time!). In that case, would the IIM be at fault if the contract was awarded to Prometric simply because it is (rather was) perceived to be the best?

Rakesh said...

@ Manoj: Once a tender process is finalised, all tender documents are public documents. They do not affect the competiveness in any sense. This has been made amply clear both by CIC and various high court benches on different occasions.

The question is not about whether prometric is best or worst. People have a right to know how the whole process went ahead. Even if prometric had conducted CAT successfully, i as a citizen have every right to seek information. RTI provides enough safuguards, but in not in such cases. The Contract document will definitely have information about penalty if any if prometric screwdup CAT like it did. This is the reason am seeking this info. To make it short, none of the information i asked for falls in the category of confidential information. Its only an attempt by IIMs to coverup something.

Once crucial difference between GRE and CAT. Prometric does not outsource conducting the GRE exam to others. In case of CAT, they did.

One

Manoj Bharadwaj said...

@Rakesh: Thank you for your reply. What is the latest update on the IIM RTI front?
Also, can you please provide me with links that will enable me to file RTIs? Also, I will be very grateful if you can give me leads to some workshops/lectures etc in and around Chennai and Bangalore that I can attend to equip myself with the ability to file RTIs.

Rakesh said...

@ Manoj: I filed an appeal with CIC. Hearing will happen in January. Regarding RTI, will send you some stuff and links.

Anonymous said...

Rakesh,

Answer to your question 2,
All the IIMs have over the years been building a corpus to achieve self sufficiency. The corpus is raised through govt. grants (annual), student fees (which has been hiked of late). CAT application fee is just one of their income sources. The corpus for IIMs A/B/C is about Rs.100 crores each (they have huge expenditure too - salaries of professors and other staff, big infrastructure to maintain etc.). They tap into this corpus for certain expenses (only when the govt. would not bear them, Prometric must have been paid from this corpus). Only because of this strong financial position the IIM board is trying to break free of govt. influence (they hate HRD by all counts which is constantly snubbing them by policing on fees, OBC quota etc.). The recent fee hike was one move closer to achieving complete independence from govt..