In a welcome step, Delhi High Court has decided to amend its Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006, to bring it in conformity with RTI Act, 2005. The decision was communicated to the division bench of the Delhi High Court, on a petition filed by law students, Aastha Sharma, Ishwin Mehta, Paras Jain and Kumar Shanu.
A media report from July, 2015 had apprised the petitioners of the request by the Department of Personnel and Training to the Registrar of all High Courts to harmonize their RTI Fees in consonance with the RTI Rules, 2012 as per the recommendations of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Committee.
This step was taken to ensure that the fee is not a disincentive for using the Right to Information and there might be uniformity, as far as possible, in the matter of implementation of the Act throughout the Country. After observing the Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006 available on the official website of the Court, the Petitioners had found several discrepancies. The Petitioners had also written a letter in this regard to the Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court in October this year. The Petitioners however did not receive any reply to the same. You may read the letter and LiveLaw article here.
They had then decided to approach the High Court, highlighting three discrepancies in the High Court RTI Rules. You may read the petition here.
Firstly, the petitioners contended that Rule 10, which prescribes Rupees fifty for the application fee and Rupees five for the Photostat/Xerox copies per page, is “arbitrary, unreasonable and exorbitant for the General Public at large.” This was especially in light of Rules 3 and 4 of Right to Information Rules, 2012 which prescribe Rs. 10 as application fee and Rs. 2 per page for providing the Photostat/Physical/Xerox copies.
Secondly, they had brought to the notice of the Court that there is no express provision under Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006 for providing access to information to citizens falling under Below Poverty Line Category at free of cost.
Addressing these two contentions, the Bench comprising Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath observed that the two issues have been addressed by the Registrar General of the High Court. It noted that the amendments to both the Delhi High Court (Right to Information) Rules, 2006 and the Delhi District Courts (Right to Information) Rules, 2008 as approved by the Full Court would be notified within four weeks.
“As is evident from the Amendments that have now been affected to the High Court Rules as well as the District Rules, the fees structure has been brought in conformity with the provisions of the Right to Information Rules, 2012 made by the Central Government. Similarly, the persons who are below poverty line are also expressly exempted from payment of fees, provided a copy of the certificate issued by the appropriate Government is submitted along with the application,” the Court observed.
The petitioners had also contended that Rule 3, which stipulates a separate application to be made in case of unrelated information, is inconsistent with the objective and provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005. “That the rule of separate application for unrelated information creates an undesirable financial loss to both the applicant as well as the Public Authority in terms of extra paper work, extra delivery charges and extra application fee which is detrimental for the free exercise of fundamental right of right to know guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India,” the Petition had stated.
The Court however did not find merit in this contention. It referred to the Explanation attached to Rule 3, which states that where more than one information sought is consequential or related to one another, the applicant will be permitted to seek them in one application.
“The said requirement, according to us, cannot be said to be in contravention of the object of the Act to ensure maximum disclosure and minimum exemptions and effective mechanism for access to information. The contention of the petitioners which does not hold any legal basis is wholly misconceived. As already mentioned, the Explanation to Rule 3 requires separate applications only where more than one information which is not related to one another is sought. Apparently, the same is intended to prevent frivolous applications seeking roving inquiries into innumerable subjects,” the Court observed. The press release by the petitioners claims that they have decided to challenge this observation before the Supreme Court of India.
Read the order here.