Has the Indian judiciary been lax in its implementation of the RTI Act, 2005?
Despite its rhetoric on governmental transparency, the Indian judiciary has been particularly lax in its implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005. High Court registries often reject RTI requests for court information. Many High Courts also have RTI rules which are ultra vires the parent act. The Legal System Reforms Project (LSRP) team of Azim Premji University, Bangalothus decided to conduct a project comparing the implementation of the RTI Act in various High Courts.
There are three basic questions their project sought to answer:
ü What are the RTI practices followed by various High Courts of India?
ü What are the types of RTI applications in which information is given and in which information is not given by various High Courts of India?
ü What are the reasons given by various High Courts for rejecting RTI applications?
The project ran from December 2016 to March 2017 and compared the implementation of the RTI act across nine High Courts namely the High Courts of Allahabad, Chennai, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Mumbai and the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. In order to compare the compliance of each High Court, they developed a numerical grading system to measure court’s compliance to the RTI called the Court Transparency Index (CTI).
The CTI includes five different aspects of RTI compliance - Rules, Disclosures, Decisions, Practice and Speed. The Rules criteria measure the compliance of RTI rules of each High Court with the RTI act. The Disclosures criteria measures compliance of the High Court with Suo-motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act. The Decisions criteria measures whether the judgments of the High Court on the RTI act are compliant with the act’s letter and spirit. The Practice criteria measures how well did the High Court respond to ten RTI applications filed by us. The Speed criteria measures how fast did the High Court respond to these ten applications. Each of these criteria is measured on a 20 point scale, the sum of which forms the 100 point CTI.
The study confirmed the hypothesis that High Court’s 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. Punjab and Haryana High Court performed best on our model with a CTI of 75, while Allahabad High Court performed the worst with a CTI of 52. There was thus a wide variation in RTI compliance across High Courts, with significant differences in compliance across our sample list. High Courts performed best on the Rules criteria, with the average high court having a score of 16.9 out of a possible 20. High courts performed most poorly on the disclosures criteria, with the average high court having a score of 7.6 out of a possible 20. Most High courts thus were non-compliant with fulfilling their suo-moto obligations under Section 4 of the RTI Act. They also found that in general, courts with the highest RTI workload are the more compliant with the RTI act and have a higher CTI.
Through practice-based comparative analyses of High Courts, the objective in the project was not only to demonstrate the lack of transparency in the court but also to specifically highlight the methods through which the court subverts requests for information. Some of these that they have evidence for include rejecting applications on procedural grounds such as such as excess fees paid, application not signed and incorrect name in the demand draft. In addition to these, “available in website”, “ information not available in form”, “information kept in a sealed envelope” were some of the substantive reasons given by PIOs of High Courts to reject the applications. In fact from data available from four high courts, the study claims that 35.5% of RTI applications are rejected on grounds outside the RTI act. Thus, the study concludes that High Courts performed poorly in our practice criteria, with an average score of 10 out of a possible 20.
The final report of the project can be found here. If a reader has any queries regarding the project or have any suggestions, comments or questions regarding the report, the study team may be directly contacted.
Member, Legal System Reforms Project,
Azim Premji University, Bangalore.