[dropcap]S[/dropcap]UPREME Court of India in its order passed on April 11, 2019, has made it clear that if a candidate seeks information under the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (the RTI Act), then payment has to be sought only as per the Rules made under the RTI Act.
A two-judge bench comprising Justices N V Ramana and S Abdul Nazeer passed the order to this effect on an appeal filed by the Institute Of Companies Secretaries Of India (ICSI) which had challenged the decision of the division bench of the Delhi High Court quashing Guideline No.3 notified by the statutory council of the ICSI. The guideline states that a fee of Rs 500 per subject/answer books will be payable for the supply of certified copy(ies) of an answer book(s) and Rs. 450 will be paid for the inspection of an answer book.
The division bench of the Delhi High Court had also directed the ICSI to charge the fee strictly under the provisions of Right to Information (Regulation of Fees and Cost) Rules, 2005 which provides for a fee of Rs 2 per page and no fee for inspecting records for the first hour; and a fee of Rs 5 for each subsequent hour (or fraction thereof).
The issue before the Apex Court related to whether the fee prescribed for examination answer scripts was payable under Rule 4 of the Right to Information (Regulation of Fee and Cost) Rules, 2005 or under Guideline No. 3 of the Guideline, Rules and Procedures for Providing Inspection and/or Supply of Certified Copy(ies) of Answer Book(s) to Students, framed by the Examination Committee of the ICSI.
The Supreme Court held:
“… Guideline no.3 of the appellant does not take away from Rule 4, The Right to Information (Regulation of Fees and Cost) Rules, 2005 which also entitles the candidates to seek inspection and certified copies of their answer scripts. In our opinion, the existence of these two avenues is not mutually exclusive and it is up to the candidate to choose either of the routes. Thus, if a candidate seeks information under the provisions of the Right to Information, then payment has to be sought under the Rules therein, however, if the information is sought under the Guidelines of the appellant, then the appellant is at liberty to charge the candidates as per its guidelines”.
However, the Apex Court set aside the order of the division bench to the extent it had quashed Guidelines No 3 of the ICSI as no prayer was made by the RTI applicant before the High Court to quash the same.
RTI applicant Paras Jain, who was a respondent before the Supreme Court, had appeared in the final examination for Company Secretary conducted by the ICSI. Jain filed an RTI application with the ICSI seeking inspection of his answer sheets and subsequently, sought certified copies of the same .
The RTI applicant was asked by the ICSI to pay Rs.500 per answer sheet, payable for the supply of certified copy(ies) of the answer book(s) and Rs.450 per answer book for providing inspection as per Guideline No 3. Aggrieved with this demand, Jain approached the Delhi High Court wherein the Single Judge dismissed his petition. However, on appeal before the division bench, he succeeded and High Court quashed the guideline.
It was against this order of the division bench that the ICSI had approached the Supreme Court.