In a landmark decision, the Division Bench headed by the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, amended the RTI Rules 2006 of the HC, while hearing a PIL filed by four law students, bringing the fees at par with other public authorities
Four young law students, Paras Jain, Kumar Shanu, Aastha Sharma and Ishwin Mehta, admirably took the Delhi High Court to Court for charging exorbitant fees for providing information under Right to Information (RTI) Act. They argued the case themselves without taking help from a professional lawyer and on 2 February 2016, won the verdict in their favour.
The students said they were shocked to read news reports, wherein the Chief Justice of the High Court, as a Competent Authority for framing RTI Rules in Courts, was charging exorbitant fees ranging from Rs50 to Rs500.
They studied the Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006. “We found the rules were arbitrary, unreasonable and in violation of the Fundamental Right viz Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and against the letter and spirit of the Right to Information Act, 2005,” says Paresh Jain.
They objected to the following rules:
a) Exorbitant Fees prescribed under Rule 10 of the Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006 i.e. Rs50 as application fee and Rs5 per page for obtaining the photostat/ physical/ Xerox Copies.
b) No provision for supply of information at free of cost for the citizens falling under below poverty line (BPL) category, which is a mandatory provision under the main Act to provide free access to information to such citizens.
c) Provision of filing separate applications for each unrelated information as per Rule 3 of the Delhi High Court RTI Rules, 2006
Jain says, “While the RTI Act prescribes Rs10 as application fee and Rs2 per page for providing photostat copies, the HC's rules had laid down the application fee of Rs50 and Rs5 per page, respectively, for copies.’’
They filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court in October 2015. Paras Jain and Kumar Shanu argued this matter in person without taking help from any advocate before the Division Bench of Chief Justice of Delhi High Court. They got the first two rules a) and b) amended in conformity with the provisions of the main RTI Act. The Bench, however, rejected main contention of the petitioners (students) on quashing of Rule 3 of the Delhi, which asks to file a separate RTI application for each information.
Jain says, “There is no provision in the RTI Act for filing separate applications in case of unrelated information, but Rule 3 of the Delhi High Court Rules states that for each piece of information sought, a separate application should be made.”
The Court stated that the provision was required as it prevents frivolous applications seeking roving inquiries into various subjects.
The law students have decided to challenge the Bench’s refusal to amend Section 3 of the Delhi HC Rules before the Supreme Court, while affirming that the reasoning given by the Bench was neither fulfilling the purpose of the Act nor contemplated by any provision of the Act itself.
The law students said that the objective of the RTI Act to ensure “maximum disclosure and minimum exemption” could only be achieved when an applicant was allowed to seek multiple information under one application.
Before joining law school and while studying at final level of Institute of Companies Secretaries of India (ICSI), Jain in his personal capacity as a student, had challenged before Division Bench headed by Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, the arbitrary and unreasonable rules of ICSI charging Rs500 per subject from the students for getting the copy of answer-sheets. This, he said, was despite the decision of Supreme Court of India in CBSE versus Aditya Bandhopadhyay (Civil Appeal 6454/2011), which established that answer-script of examinees is an information and hence, it must be provided under the RTI Act. The said Bench ordered the ICSI to provide the copy of answer-sheets at Rs2 per page, which is prescribed under RTI Act.
Box: Comparable fees before the High Court order
The students have their own forum called Whistle for Public Interest (WHIP). This is a group representing public-spirited law students, who tackle issues through legal research, filing RTI applications, drafting petitions and arguing the matters in person without engaging advocates, before High Court, Supreme Court and other quasi-judicial authorities.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, and also convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)