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AICTE's (India) Back Room Deals With Microsoft: Taxpayers Stay Out!

Public institutions, secretive deals

AICTE's letter to Narendra Sisodiya



Summary: The sham at AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) goes deeper than initially thought

IT SMELLS like corruption. Well, Microsoft is involved, so back room deals are a standard routine. The AICTE fiasco is a subject that we've been writing about since last year and Narendra Sisodiya, an educator promoting software freedom in India, is now appealing with help from SFLC-India in order to get to the bottom of it. To quote his letter (response to the above statement):



To

The Appellate Authority(E-Governance) in AICTE,

7th Floor, Chanderlok Building, Janpath

New Delhi- 110 001

Sir,

Sub: Appeal under Section 19 of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Ref.: Application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 dated 21-10-2010

This is with reference to my application under Right to Information Act, 2005 dated October 21, 2010 filed before the The Central Public Information Officer, All India Council for Technical Education, 7th Floor, Chanderlok Building, Janpath, New Delhi- 110 001, for obtaining the following information:

1. Copy of the agreement signed on 15 October 2010 between between All India Council for Technical Education and Microsoft to deliver free access to development software and design software for institutions, students and faculty in India under DreamSpark program

2. Copy of the agreement signed on 15 October 2010 between All India Council for Technical Education and Autodesk to deliver free access to development software and design software for institutions, students and faculty in India

In response to my application, the CPIO has sent a letter dated January 11, 2011 refusing to provide the information requested, as per Section 8(1) of the RTI Act as the information is coming under commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property. It is submitted that the letter does not specify reasons as to how the disclosure of an agreement entered with an organisation to provide software to students will result in giving information relating to commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property. The CPIO has not given any justification for denying the information sought by the applicant. The letter furnished by the CPIO is not a speaking order and hence the refusal to provide information is not justifiable.

An agreement entered with an organisation to provide software to students cannot be withheld from the public citing commercial confidence as a reason. The Central Information Commission has held in Gita Dewan Verma Vs. Additional Secretary (UD) Govt. of NCT Delhi decided on 27.01.2009 that claim of 'commercial confidence' in denying access to agreements between private parties and the masters of the Public authorities,- Citizens, - runs counter to the principles of the Right to Information. The Central Information Commission has held in K.S. Jasrotia v Hindustan Steelworks Construction Limited dated 18-05-2007 that Memorandum of Understanding between two parties should not be treated as confidential papers. Hence withholding the information sought for from the applicant is unjustifiable and against the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

As per Section 8(1) (d) of the RTI Act, 2005, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen 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 (emphasis supplied). AICTE is vested with the role of proper planning and co-ordinated development of the technical education system throughout the country. The agreement entered into by AICTE with Microsoft Corp and Autodesk has definite public interest considering the fact that it has a direct bearing on education provided to the student community. The Government of India and many State Governments have undertaken various initiatives to promote Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in the field of education as well as governance. Recently a letter was sent by Mr. N. K. Sinha, IAS, Additional Secretary (TEL), Department of Higher Education, MHRD to AICTE and Directors/VCs of Central Educational Institutions to explore Open Source Software Solutions before adopting proprietary solutions for their academic, administrative and financial needs. A copy of this letter dated January 12, 2011 is enclosed along with this appeal. In the light of initiatives undertaken by the Government in promoting Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), it is in public interest to disclose details of an agreement entered into by AICTE that could result in promotion of proprietary software. Knowledge Commons is a Non-profit organisation involved in development of Free software like SchoolOS, in collaboration with NCERT, and hence has a public interest in learning the details of such agreements entered into by the AICTE. As the information sought for is in larger public interest, the refusal to provide the information to the applicant is unjustifiable.

For the reasons stated above, I request you to quash the decision of the CPIO and to direct that the required information be furnished to the applicant at the earliest. I am enclosing a copy of the application along with this appeal.

Although the letter from the CPIO is dated January 11, 2011, it was delivered much later at my office and as I was on sick leave, I received the letter only on February 14, 2011. Considering these facts, I request you to condone the short delay in filing the appeal.

Encl:

1.

Copy of application under RTI Act, 2005 dated October 21, 2010 2.

Letter dated January 12, 2011 of Additional Secretary (TEL), Department of Higher Education

Place: New Delhi

Date: 28/Feb/2011

Signature of Applicant

E-mail Address :- narendra@narendrasisodiya.com

Tel. No.(Office) :- 011-26693563

Mobile :- 9312166995

Postal Address :- B-130, Lower Ground Floor, Shivalik, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi – 110 017


Our Indian readers are kindly asked to help Narendra Sisodiya by sending similar complaints. India's population should demand real education (not Microsoft et al. training), so it should take this abuse to the highest level. Under scrutiny, those who sign secret deals will have to flee -- maybe even get fired -- or simply improve their behaviour.

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