Though the high courts in the country are supposed to deliver justice in Right To Information (RTI) cases, they are the very institutions that are making implementation of the law difficult, a study by a government institute has found.
The study conducted by the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration, which evaluates the efficacy of the transparency law, finds that many high courts have prescribed rules for RTI in violation of the parent Act.
The study also brought out some startling facts, such as high courts failing to rectify typographical errors while copying rules of other high courts, and imposing restrictions in addition to the eight already existing in the parent law.
“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 its report, which was submitted to the government.
Through their rulings, a majority of the high courts have reduced the severity of penalty on those who fail to provide information on time, or give the wrong information. The RTI law provides for a maximum penalty of Rs. 25,000 whereas several high courts, such that of Calcutta and Gujarat, impose a maximum penalty of Rs. 1,000.
The report states that courts do not have the power to decide on penalties because the parent Act has already prescribed them. “In the absence of such power, rules prescribing penalties suffer from illegality,” the report said.
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 the motive for seeking information in writing.
“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 was not paid to the printed text,” said the study of the Maharashtra government’s official training institute.
High courts in several states stated that their respective chief justices can take a call on the information that has to be made public. The RTI law says that the official concerned can be penalised for delay or providing wrong information.
In the case of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the rules of the RTI Act have been made subservient to that of the courts. Its impact can be felt by RTI applicants. “Because of such flawed rules, getting information becomes very difficult,” said RTI activist Subhash Aggarwal.
In addition to this, the high courts of Allahabad, Kerala and Madras say that information can be made available only after getting the Chief Justice’s approval.
RTI vs the courts
High courts of Calcutta, Delhi, Gujarat,
Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Patna