The case reached Central Information Commission after Patiala House court demanded Rs 50 from an applicant for filing first appeal against the reply provided by its Central Public Information Officer under the RTI Act.
The Delhi High Court while exercising its power under Section 28 (1) of the Right to Information Act made the Delhi District Court (Right to Information Rules, 2008) under which which Rule 11 deals with the provision concerning charging of fees during First Appeal. According to the RTI Act, fee can only be charged at the stage of filing of the RTI Act.
The transparency law does not have any provision of levying fee at the stage of first appeal within a department or second appeal before the Commission.
"Imposing a fee of Rs 50 as mandatory requirement at the first appeal level is not in consonance with the fee structure prescribed by Act and Rules by Central Government. Except Rs 10 fee at the stage of filing request for information with the PIO, the law does not prescribe any fee at any stage including at the second appeal level at the Information Commission," Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said in his order.
The Commission recommended Delhi High Court to amend the rules to bring it in conformity with RTI Act, for effective provision of access to information and to bring uniformity with the rules made by DoPT which are also followed by the Supreme Court. "Right to information can be culled out from fundamental right to life and liberty under Article 21 and from freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) which was more specifically guaranteed by Right to Information Act," Acharyulu said.
Acharyulu said the scheme and mechanism of providing access to information includes the fee structure and stages where fee can be or cannot be imposed.
"Any further restriction or change introduced through rules, will not only transgress the Right to Information Act, but also violate Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(2) of the Constitution," he said.
The Commissioner said requirement of payment of fee at first appeal will dissuade the applicants from filing first appeals and directly approach the Information Commission in second appeal as no fee is prescribed at that stage. "The Commission... observes that Delhi District Court (RTI) rules contain a provision which is not provided in the parent RTI Act," he pointed out.
The Information Commissioner said the Supreme Court has framed rules that are in conformity with the law and follows the common rules made by DoPT.
"The High Court being a Constitutional Court which judicially enforce the fundamental rights and adjudicate disputes about statutorily guaranteed rights such as RTI, is legitimately expected to frame rules in accordance with the provisions and spirit of Right to Information Act," he said.
The Information Commissioner said the object of the Parliament in designating a senior officer as first appellate authority of the Public Authority is to facilitate the access to information or address the grievance which mostly taking the shape of information request. "An effective review of denial of access to information and proactive redressal of grievance could happen within the public authority itself, which is a good governance practice and also ethics of administration," he said.
The Commissioner said provision of first appeal within the public authority would mean that the Parliament has duly regarded the administrative autonomy of the department or public authority to set right the home.
"An imposition of fee of Rs 50 at the level of First Appeal would thus cause an impediment which was not envisaged by the law. Mandatory rule requiring fee at the middle level, when it is not there at second level and it is only Rs 10 at first level, does not fit in the scheme and structure created by the RTI Act, 2005," he said.