The Supreme Court on Tuesday passed a order directing directing that RTI fees would be capped at maximum Rs. 50 per application and Rs. 5 for photocopying for all government authorities.
A bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit passed the order in response to a host of petitions challenging the RTI rules of various high courts and other authorities including the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly, which had all imposed excessive fees for application and photocopying under the Right to Information Act. This was widely deemed as a blatant attempt to discourage the general public from seeking information under the RTI Act.
Appearing for the petitioners, noted Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that the RTI fees should not act as a deterrent for those seeking information in public interest.
In 2011, Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha had increased the RTI application fee to Rs. 500 and reduced it to Rs. 300 in December 2016, which was still considerably excessive. The petitioners, in their submission against the Chhattisgarh assembly’s decision had said, “It is submitted that prior to enforcement of the Rules of 2011, the application fees was 10/- rupees and by way of the impugned Rule 5, the respondents enhanced the fees to Rs.500/- per application which was later amended in 2016 to be Rs. 300.
“Like wise, the applicant is required to pay 2 rupees per page, but after enforcement of Rules of 2011, same has been increased to Rupees 15/- per page. It is submitted that the said Rules clearly violate Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India that guarantees to all Indian citizens the right to information.”
The petitioners had sought had sought that the ‘Rules of Vidhan Sabha be brought in harmony with the Central Rules (which are also being followed by this Hon’ble Court).’
“It is also submitted that various High Courts on the administrative side had framed similar rules as Vidhan Sabha but after orders were passed by this Hon’ble Court and Central Information Commission (CIC), they have been brought in harmony with the spirit of the Act. Hence, this petition,” they added.
As for the Allahabad High Court, after the Supreme Court’s interim order, it had reduced the fees from Rs. 500 to Rs. 250, which the petitioner argued was still exorbitant. One of the petitioners against the Allahabad High Court’s order was Common Cause, which argued in its petition, “According to Government figures, per capita income of an average person in the State of UP is about Rs 70 per day… This means that an average person would have to spend more than his week’s income to get a single query answered. There can be no doubt that such a high fee is unwarranted and cannot be considered to be ‘reasonable’.”