Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s analysis of the RTI Rules notified by the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir

hcBy Venkatesh Nayak*

In April 2015 the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) High Court notified its Rules to implement the J&K Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2009 within its jurisdiction and in all courts under its administrative control and supervision. Although they ought to have drafted these Rules alongside the State Government which notified RTI Rules in 2009 itself (amended later in 2012), they have done so after more than five years (The J&K High Court  RTI Rules may be accessed HERE) .

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) analysed the RTI Rules notified by the J&K High Court in detail and came up with several recommendations to ensure that the Rules are in tune with the letter and spirit of the J&K RTI Act. Last week, CHRI sent the analysis of the RTI Rules and the recommendations for improvement, to the Chief Justice, J&K High Court.

Some of the major areas of concern in the J&K High Court’s RTI Rules are reproduced below:

  • Although the J&K RTI Act requires an RTI applicant to pay a fee while submitting a request for information, the fee amount payable is not stipulated anywhere in the RTI Rules. We recommend that the Rules be amended to specify the application fee amount. This may be set at the lowest benchmark of Rs 10 per application as has been done in the RTI Rules notified by the J&K State Government and the Central Government.
  • The RTI Rules introduce additional grounds for exempting people’s access to information from the judiciary. It is our firm belief based on the rich jurisprudence developed by the Supreme Court and various High Courts across the country that the power of delegated legislation cannot be exercised to create new restrictions on a right guaranteed by the principal statute. Needless to say, the Rule-making power has been delegated with the express purpose of carrying out the provisions of the J&K RTI Act. The RTI Rules will have to be amended to delete the new exemptions that have been introduced.
  • In a few places, the Rules reproduce the provisions of the principal Act ad literatim or in summary fashion. While there is no necessity for repeating the provisions of the principal Act in the Rules, summarizing some provisions inadequately creates confusion and leaves room for doubt as to how they must be implemented. Deleting all superfluous Rules that repeat or summarise the provisions of the J&K RTI Act may be considered.
  • In order to ensure effective compliance with the requirement of suo moto disclosure of information under the Act, it is advisable to fix responsibility for the same within every public authority. A senior officer or a committee of officers must be asked with the responsibility of making and regularly updating suo motu disclosures about the work done on the judicial and the administrative side of every court. Guidelines issued by the Government of India under the Central RTI Act for this purpose are attached for your reference.
  • As a large majority of the people in J&K are not well versed in English it is advisable for the Rules to be translated into the official languages of the State. This will create greater convenience for people who would like to inform themselves of the procedures for seeking and receiving information from the judiciary.

Unlike the RTI Rules notified by the J&K Government there is no provision in the J&K RTI Act for tabling the High Court’s RTI Rules before the Houses of the J&K Legislature for scrutiny. So the only authority which can amend these Rules is the Hon’ble Chief Justice himself.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

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