3 July 2014 ; Bringing cheer to the residents of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, and to the RTI activist community across the country, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has amended its Right to Information Rules, making them one of the most citizen friendly rules as compared to other High Courts across the country. The amended rules have just been uploaded. This was done in response to a PIL filed by a lawyer Arjun Sheoran, titled “Arjun Sheoran v High Court of Punjab and Haryana” in 2013 (CWP 3265 of 2013), which had challenged the High Court of Punjab and Haryana RTI Rules 2007, as well as the applicable rules for the subordinate courts of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, arguing that the HC RTI Rules were against the letter and spirit of the RTI Act, 2005.
The Hon’ble Court had treated the comprehensive PIL by Arjun Sheoran as a representation before the Rules Committee of the High Court. The petition had also filed further supplementary representations, with in depth research on the law regarding rule-making and RTI from across India, along with suggested changes in the Rules, in order to assist the Rules Committee. The entire, took over a year and a half of deliberations at various levels.
The pro-citizen changes in the HC RTI Rules, were done as per the prayer in the writ petition, to make the Rules citizen friendly, and as per the RTI Act.The changes in the Rules were finally approved after a Full Court meeting of all High Court Judges. Now the HC RTI Rules are similar to the Rules followed by the Central Government and the Supreme Court of India.
Arjun Sheoran has called this a small victory, which took a year and a half of efforts, in the journey to actualize the right to information in India, and has stated that well known activists like Aruna Roy from MKSS, Nikhil Dey from NCPRI (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information) and V Suresh from PUCL (Peoples Union for Civil Liberties) have expressed interest to approach other High Courts for similar amendments.
The changes include the following:
1. Fees can now be paid in cash, which was not allowed earlier under the old rules.
2. Application can now be submitted on plain paper, and cannot be rejected on the ground that it was not made in Form A.
3. The RTI application can be made on any working day, during working hours, instead of the earlier rules where RTI applications were accepted only 2 hours in a day (11 am to 1 pm)
4. Earlier, if a matter did not fall into his/her jurisdiction, the PIO could return the RTI application to the applicant, and the fees paid was to be forfeited. That provision, being illegal, has been done away with, and now the PIO will be duty bound to forward the application as well as the fees to the appropriate public authority within 5 days.
5. The application fees, as suggested, has been reduced from Rs 50 per application to Rs 10 per application.
6. The per page cost of the information has been reduced from Rs. 5 per page to Rs. 2 per page.
7. Information CD will now cost Rs 25 per CD instead of Rs 100 per CD.
8. Information regarding tenders/bids/quotation will be given at Rs. 100 per application, instead of Rs. 500 as was earlier applicable.
9. The Rs 100 fee for first appeal has also been removed, as suggested.