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When answer sheets of an exam are sought under RTI, then the Right to Information (Regulation of Fees and Cost) Rules, 2005 [RTI Rules] will govern the fees for procuring the same, the Supreme Court has held.
The decision was rendered by a Bench of Justices NV Ramana and S Abdul Nazeer, which made it clear that if there are other avenues to procure answer sheets, the applicant can choose which one to route her request through.
The RTI Rules entitle a student to seek inspection and certified copies of their answer scripts. When this right is exercised, Rule 4 will govern the levy of the required charges. This Rule stipulates a fee of Rs. 2 for each page of the answer script. For inspection, no fee is prescribed for the first hour. For every subsequent hour of inspection, the fee is Rs. 5 per hour.
The order came in an appeal filed by the Institute of Companies Secretaries of India (ICSI) against a decision of a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court.
The respondent, Advocate Paras Jain, had sought from ICSI certified copies of answer sheets and their inspection under RTI. He was charged a fee for the same as per Guideline No. 3 notified by the Statutory Council of the ICSI. As per the ICSI Guidelines, the fee for the supply of certified copies was Rs. 500 per answer sheet, and the charge for inspection was Rs. 450 per answer book.
Since the charges were demanded under the statutory guidelines instead of Rule 4 of the RTI Rules, a petition was filed before the Delhi High Court challenging the same. It was dismissed by a Single Judge Bench.
In a Letters Patent Appeal that followed, the Division Bench of the High Court quashed Guideline No. 3 notified by the Statutory Council and held that only the fee prescribed under RTI Rules can be charged. The ICSI appealed against this verdict before the Supreme Court.
The question before the Supreme Court was which Guidelines/Rules will govern the prescription of fee for copies of answer sheets and their inspection.
The Court held that while the ICSI is governed by the Companies Secretaries Act, 1980 and the Examination Committee formed under the statute prescribes a certain fee, the RTI Rules also lay down a fee structure for procurement of answer sheets. The Court held,
“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.”
Thus, if a candidate seeks information under the provisions of the Right to Information Act, then payment has to be sought under the RTI Rules. Therefore, ICSI’s appeal was decline in this respect.
However, as regards the quashing of Guideline no. 3, the Court held that the same was done by the High Court despite no such prayer having been made. Thus, it set aside that part of the High Court judgment and allowed the appeal to that limited extent.
Counsel for ICSI also submitted that owing to the nominal fee charged under the RTI Rules, it has become financially burdensome to disseminate information. The Court thus granted liberty to the counsel to make a representation to the government to enhance the fee fixed under the RTI Rules.
Advocates Vikas Mehta, Adith, Vasanth Bharani, and RD Makheeja appeared for ICSI.
Prashant Bhushan, Pranav Sachdeva and Neha Rathi appeared for the respondent.