NEW DELHI :
High courts of Patna, Delhi and Kerala rank the highest on their compliance of the Right to Information Act (RTI), 2005 according to a recent study by think tank Vidhi Centre for Legal policy.
The think tank developed a ‘Convenience Index’ which evaluates the extent to which the RTI Rules framed by the high courts make it convenient for citizens to file RTI applications, as a part of its report titled, ‘Sunshine in the Courts: Ranking the High Courts on their compliance with the RTI Act’.
Every High Court is required to draft RTI Rules under the the Act to lay down a procedure for filing RTI applications. Many High Courts draft RTI Rules, which while legal, make it extremely inconvenient for citizens to file RTI applications by raising unnecessary hurdles.
“It is quite clear that there is a yawning gap between the judiciary’s bold pronouncements on the right to information and the manner in which the High Courts are implementing the RTI Act. Not only are the RTI Rules of several High Courts ultra vires the RTI Act, they also provide for a relatively inconvenient procedure when compared to the RTI Rules of the Government of India." The report said.
The think tank developed an index based on six main criteria to measure the extent to which the various High Court Rules make it convenient for citizens to file RTI applications. The High Courts at Patna, Delhi and Kerala perform the best on the ‘convenience index’ and the High Courts at Gujarat, Madras, Meghalaya and Chhattisgarh perform the worst on the same index.
The report examined whether the rules are published in a local language, the fees charged by the High Court and the various methods in which the RTI application fee can be made. The think tank used Government’s Right to Information Rules, 2012 as a benchmark for comparing the convenience offered by the RTI Rules of all the high courts except Jammu and Kashmir.
One of the key findings of the report is that most of the conversation for greater judicial transparency has focused on ensuring ‘individual accountability’ of judges rather than ‘institutional accountability’ of the judiciary.
It says that many courts currently charge five times the amount charged by the Centre for filing RTI applications.
The recommendations include having more modes of payment through the RTI fees in order to make it simple for citizens to file RTI applications. It also suggests that the high courts should publish clearly discernible rules on the website in the local language of the state.