The UP and Delhi High Courts are charging 50 times more than the amount being charged by the Centre and a majority of states from a person seeking information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
While the Centre and most states have fixed the fee at Rs 10, the two HCs have been charging information-seekers Rs 500, virtually denying the poor the information they need.
The exorbitant fee has left the UP State Information Commission and Central Information Commission (CIC) fuming. They are demanding amendment to the RTI Act to bring in uniformity in the fee structure.
The present RTI gives states and the judiciary right to determine their own fees.
â€œThis is virtual denial of information. It is against the spirit of the RTI. I've taken it up with the CIC,â€ says UP Information Commissioner Justice (retired) M A Khan who is in Delhi to participate in the first three-day convention of the CIC.
In its rules formulated on RTI, the Delhi HC says an information seeker will have to pay Rs 500 per application for information on all matters other than quasi-judicial and administrative. For the quasi-judicial and administration information, which will be available only to the affected persons, the fee has been pegged at Rs 50 per application. The court has also specified speed money (Rs 10 per page) for persons who want pages of information urgently.
NOIDA: RTI activists are up in arms against a notice issued by the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority (NOIDA) on Thursday, which says that an RTI applicant will be charged Rs 400 on first appeal, and another Rs 100 for getting the judgment of an appellate authority.
They say this is an attempt to defang the Act by discouraging RTI applications and shield corrupt officials.
As RTI activist and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal puts it: "It is an illegal and shameless attempt to cover up NOIDA's nefarious activities." The NGO, Parivartan, too condemned this as "subverting of the RTI Act".
Expressing concern over the turn of events, state chief information commissioner Gyanendra Sharma said: "NOIDA's CEO cannot levy any charges for an appeal under the RTI Act. I have summoned the NOIDA principal information officer to Lucknow on Monday."
It all began with NOIDA releasing a notice to a section of the media on Thursday. The notice said a "fee of Rs 400 will be charged if an RTI applicant files an appeal before Noida's appellate authority, about NOIDA not providing timely or desired information. Also, Rs 100 will be charged for obtaining the judgement of the appellate authority, who is NOIDA's additional chief executive officer."
NOIDA has even introduced some "amendments" in the Act. While the law says information under the Act can be held up in "public interest", the NOIDA website announces it can be held up "in the interest of the authority" too.
The website further states that the "competent authority" is the CEO of NOIDA. However, Section 28 (2) of the RTI Act limits the "competent authority" to speakers of legislative bodies, the President, state governors, Supreme Court and high court chief justices and administrators of Union Territories.
Also, the RTI Act has no provision which allows even the "competent authority" to levy any fee for appeals. The competent authority can only regulate the cost of providing the information.
Said RTI activist Commander (retd) Lokesh Batra: "Levying a fee for appeals is like saying the appellant will be penalised if NOIDA does not provide information under the Act. This move is an attempt to cover up corruption in NOIDA."
In Jalvayu Vihar, claimed Batra, NOIDA has "even stopped providing sanitation facilities after a number of applications under the RTI Act were filed by the residents".
Asked to comment, NOIDA CEO Sanjiv Saran asked to contact his deputy, saying: "Deputy CEO C P Singh is looking after RTI here. Please ask him." When Singh was approached, he in turn said, "Please ask the CEO as he looks after RTI."