Report: lack of transparency in High Courts is worrying

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A new study by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has found that there is a “yawning gap" between the judiciary’s pronouncements on the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the manner in which the High Courts are implementing it.

The report Sunshine in the Courts has remarked that the RTI rules of several High Courts provide for a relatively inconvenient procedure when compared to the RTI rules of the Government of India.

“The lack of good quality proactive disclosures by several High Courts on their websites marks the failure of the High Courts to discharge a specific statutory obligation imposed under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act,” the report said.

It added that the lack of administrative transparency, especially financial transparency, within High Courts was a matter of grave concern.

“In particular, the lack of transparency in financial matters of the High Courts is very worrying. Most High Courts do not proactively publish details about their budgets and expenditure. Even fewer High Courts are willing to provide copies of their budgets and audit reports under the RTI Act,” the report said.

‘Illegal clauses’

The report found that despite the law being crystal clear on the limits of delegated legislation, several High Courts have included patently illegal clauses in their RTI Rules. It pointed out that despite Section 8 of the RTI Act restricting the number of grounds for denying information to citizens, the RTI rules of several High Courts have included additional grounds for rejecting requests for information.

“High Courts at Bombay, Delhi, Gauhati, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa, Punjab and Haryana, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Tripura have created additional grounds for non-disclosure of information,” it said.

On the convenience index, the Vidhi report noted that while several High Courts did recognise convenient modes of payments like postal orders, the High Courts of Allahabad, Chhattisgarh, Gauhati, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Sikkim, did not recognise it.

It said that the High Courts of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, prescribe only court fee stamps as relevant mode of payment. “Not only are court fee stamps different in each State, they are usually available at fewer locations than postal orders, which are available in all post offices across the country,” it said.

Additionally, the report stated that the Gujarat High Court does not mention any mode of payment, which increases uncertainty for RTI applicants.

The report remarked that it should be a matter of concern to see the judiciary lagging behind the Centre when it comes to abiding by the letter and spirit of the RTI Act.

“The fact that the RTI rules of so many High Courts have provisions that run the risk of being declared ultra vires the RTI Act coupled with the fact that nine High Courts and most District Courts have not bothered to make any of the disclosures under Section 4(1)(b) of the RTI Act, is indicative of serious systemic issues within the administrative side of the judiciary,” the report said.

“It is also telling that on our convenience index, not a single High Court was able to match the convenience offered by the Government of India’s RTI Rules,” it concluded.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 11:10:43 AM |

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