Tuesday, May 23, 2017

most RTI compliant, Allahabad HC least, says study by Azim Premji University

Bar & Bench: New Delhi: Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
The final year post-graduate students of Azim Premji University, Bangalore have come out with a report on RTI compliance by nine High Courts in the country, titled the Legal System Reforms Project (LSRP).
The report revealed that the Punjab & Haryana High Court was the most RTI-compliant, while the Allahabad High Court was on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The selection of the High Courts itself revealed some unwelcome facts. Though there is no restriction on the method of applying for information under the RTI Act, many High Courts had specific Rules mandating the submission of the application in person. To quote from the study,
“Our initial plan was to use a randomised sample, picking our sample High courts for different sizes from different geographical locations. We soon realised however that such an approach would fail, since not all High Courts allowed the filing of applications by post or email. For example, the Tripura High Court rules specifically provides that applications must be submitted “in person” during the working hours of the court.
Similarly, the Orissa High Court rules provide that the RTI application form must be obtained under “oath”. We filed a “test” application in Patna High Court, to see whether these rules were applied in practice. The high court responded to our application, asking us to fill the fees in the accounts counter of the High Court and then submit an application, in person, to the PIO during the working hours of the court.”
The study thus came to be confined to nine High Courts which provided information by post. They are Punjab & Haryana High Court, Himachal Pradesh High Court, Bombay High Court, Delhi High Court, Calcutta High Court, Kerala High Court, Karnataka High Court, Madras High Court and Allahabad High Court.
Based on the RTI responses to a common questionnaire, the study made the following conclusions:
Finding 1: In general, High Courts are non-compliant with the Right to Information Act, 2005.
A quantitative measure, Court Transparency Index (CTI), was developed in order to compare the responses of different High Courts.
The report states:
“Our study confirmed the hypothesis that High Courts perform poorly in terms of implementing the RTI act. Most High Courts performed poorly on the CTI scale with the median of CTI of all nine High courts at 64 out of a possible 100 points.”
The Punjab & Haryana High Court had the highest CTI, scoring 75 out of 100, while the Allahabad High Court came in last with a CTI score of 52. This score was arrived at taking into account five parameters: Rules, Disclosure, Decisions, Practice and Speed.
Rank   High Court                 CTI score
1          Punjab & Haryana           75
2          Himachal Pradesh           69
3          Bombay                           68
4          Delhi                                64
4          Calcutta                           64
6          Kerala                              62
7          Karnataka                        57
8          Madras                          53.5
9          Allahabad                        52
Some of the other findings by the Project are as follows:
Finding 2. The compliance with the RTI Act, 2005 increases with RTI workload.
Finding 3. High Courts reject a high number of RTI applications – mostly for reasons outside the RTI Act.
Finding 4. Most High Courts notify RTI rules which frustrate the purpose of the RTI act.
“Section 28 of the RTI act allows competent authorities to make rules regarding fees and “any other matter which is required to be, or may be, prescribed”. These rules however should be made “to carry out the provisions of this Act”. In many cases, High Courts use these provisions to make rules which are either directly ultra vires the provisions of the act or indirectly create restrictions which frustrate the purpose of the act.”
Finding 10: High Courts typically take around 3 weeks to reply to a RTI application.