Indian high courts were supposed to deliver justice in Right To Information (RTI) cases. But, they have themselves enforced rules that make implementation of the transparency law --- RTI Act --- difficult.
A study done by a government institute ---- Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration --- aimed at evaluating efficacy and reasonableness of rules prescribed under RTI Act finds that many high courts have prescribed rules to enforce RTI Act, in violation of the parent Act.
The study came out with some startling facts of such high courts failing to rectify typographical errors while copying rules of other high courts and imposing restrictions additional to eight in the parent law on providing the information.
“The root question is, can the competent authority, while exercising its rule making power, frame rules contradictory to the substantive provisions of the Act?” the institute asked in a report submitted to the government.
Majority of the high courts through the rules has reduced severity of imposing penalty on those who fail to provide information on time or provide wrong information. The RTI law provides for maximum penalty of Rs 25,000 whereas high courts such that of Calcutta and Gujarat impose a maximum penalty of Rs 1,000.
The report said that the court does not have power to decide on penalties as the parent Act has already provided the penalties. “In absence of such power, rules prescribing penalties suffer from illegality,” the report said.
Unlike several government departments, many High Courts insist on knowing the motive behind seeking information, which is prohibited under the RTI Act. The Jharkhand High Court RTI rules ask the applicants to give in writing the motive for seeking information.
“On reading the rules, an impression is created that the (high court) authorities have not applied their mind while drafting the rules and adequate attention is not paid to the printed text,” said the study of Maharashtra’s government official Administrative Training Institute.
The high courts in several states have made it mandatory that the chief justice of the respective courts will decide the information could be made public. The RTI law says the official deciding on the information to be provided is liable for imposition of penalty in case of delay or for providing wrong information.
Another contradiction is that the courts have made the RTI rules subservient to state high court rules as in Uttar Pradesh and Madya Pradesh.
Its impact can be felt by RTI applicants. “Because of such flawed rules getting information from many courts is very difficult,” said RTI activist Subhash Aggarwal.
High courts RTI contradictions
Allahadbad High Court: Rs 500 --- RTI application fees.
Andhra Pradesh High Court: Rs 25 --- RTI application fees
Delhi High Court: Rs 50 --- RTI application fees
Gujarat High Court: Rs 50 (Rs 500 for information on tenders and contracts) – RTI application fees
Madras High Court: Rs 50 as RTI application fees
Madhya Pradesh High Court: Rs 50 --- RTI application fees
Punjab and Haryana High Court: Rs 100 --- RTI application fees
Rajasthan High Court: Rs 100 --- RTI application fees
Law prescribes Rs 10.
Bombay High Court: Rs 20 fees for first appeal
Chhattisgarh High Court: Rs 40 fees for first appeal
Calcutta High Court, Delhi and Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, and Patna: Rs 50 fees for first appeal
Jharkhand High Court: Rs 15 for first appeal
No fees prescribed under RTI law for first appeal
Other anomalies: High Courts of Allahabad, Kerala and Madras says information can be made available after approval of Chief Justice.