CURRENT FOCUS

In a petition by Common Cause, Supreme Court in another landmark order directed that RTI fees should not exceed ₹50 per application and ₹5 for photocopying of documents.

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SC CAPS RTI FEE AT ₹50

In a petition by Common Cause, Supreme Court in another landmark order directed that RTI fees should not exceed ₹50 per application and ₹5 for photocopying of documents. This order, applicable  for all government authorities, addresses the concerns expressed by our organization and other RTI activists that excessive fees would act as a deterrent for information seekers.

The final order was passed in a batch of petitions challenging the RTI Rules of various High Courts and other authorities such as the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly which had all imposed excessive fees for application and photocopying under the Right to Information Act so as to disincentivise the general public from seeking information under the RTI. Mr. Prashant Bhushan appeared for the petitioners and said that the RTI fees should not act as a deterrent for information seekers.

The writ  had objected to the requirement in the Allahabad High Court Rules, for permission of the Chief Justice or the Judge concerned to the disclosure of information. Regarding this, the order directed that this requirement would  only apply  in respect of information which is exempted under the scheme of the Act. As regards the objection that under Section 6(3) of the Act, the public authority has to transfer the application to another public authority if information is not available, the said provision should  normally be complied with except where the public authority dealing with the application is not aware as to which other authority will be the appropriate authority. As regards Rules 25 to 27 of the Allahabad High Court Rules which debar giving of information with regard to the matters pending adjudication, the order ruled that the same may be read consistent with Section 8 of the Act, more particularly sub-section (1) 3 in Clause (J) thereof. Wherever rules do not comply with the above observations, the same be revisited.

In 2011, Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha had increased RTI application fee to ₹500 and reduced it to ₹300 in December 2016, which was still excessive.

Common Cause has been questioning the obstructive RTI rules framed by various High Courts under the rule-making powers conferred by the Right to Information Act, 2005. Our analysis showed that the Allahabad High Court (RTI) Rules, 2006, were particularly obstructive. In November 2011, Common Cause urged the High Court to reformulate the provisions contrary to the RTI Act in line with various recommendations of the Central Information Commission.

On receiving no response from the High Court, a writ petition was filed for quashing the impugned Allahabad High Court Rules. The petition contended that Rules 3, 4, 5, 20, 25, 26 and 27 of the Allahabad High Court (RTI) Rules, are in clear violation of the different provisions of the RTI Act and also violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.  In a hearing held in November 2012, the High Court sought and was allowed two months’ time to amend the deviant rules so as to bring them in consonance with the provisions of the parent Act. A gazette notification was issued on April 4, 2013 for the amendment of Rule 4 relating to application fees. Common Cause filed an additional affidavit on July 15, 2013, highlighting, inter alia, a deliberate ambiguity in the wording of the amended rule. The PIL was clubbed with Lok Prahari’s PIL on the same issue, which was transferred from the Allahabad High Court. Notices to the unserved respondents were issued afresh. In the subsequent hearings, similar petitions challenging the RTI Rules of the Bombay High Court, Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha and Legislative assembly of Uttar Pradesh were also tagged with the main petition.