Does an RTI applicant enter into a legal contract by paying Rs. 10/- as fees to the public information officer?
Lenin Raj 6 Jul 2023

The Right to Information (RTI) Act in India has been instrumental in promoting transparency and empowering citizens to seek information from public authorities. A gentleman on Quora asked me a question about his misunderstanding about paying RTI fees and their relationship with contracts. In this article, I will go into the terms of the RTI Act in order to clarify the key differences between paying RTI fees and entering into a contract.

Statutory Provision:

Under Section 6(1) of the RTI Act, any person desiring to obtain information must make a request in writing to the Public Information Officer (PIO). Additionally, Section 6(1) of the Act also states that the request for information shall be accompanied by the prescribed fee. The Act provides the necessary framework for citizens to exercise their right to information, including the requirement of paying fees.

Mandatory Requirement:

The payment of RTI fees is a mandatory requirement imposed by the RTI Act. Section 7(1) of the Act specifies that the PIO, upon receiving an application, shall provide the requested information within 30 days. However, this timeline can be extended to 45 days if the PIO provides a reasonable justification. The Act does not classify the payment of fees as a contractual agreement but rather as a necessary condition for processing the information request.

Pre-determined Fee Structure:

The RTI Act also outlines the fee structure in the RTI Rules, which may vary across different public authorities. As per the RTI Rules, the application fee is Rs. 10/-, and there may be additional fees for providing the information, depending on factors such as the mode of delivery, size of documents, or the time involved. These fees are fixed by the government and are not subject to negotiation or modification through a contract.

Consideration and Performance:

In a contract, consideration is a crucial element, referring to the value exchanged between the parties. In a typical contract, both parties provide something of value to each other. However, when paying RTI fees, the applicant is providing the prescribed amount solely to cover the expenses incurred by the public authority in processing the information request. The PIO's performance is the provision of the requested information, which is not contingent upon the fee payment but rather mandated by the RTI Act.

No Mutually Consented Terms:

A contract is based on mutual consent and agreement between parties. However, in the context of RTI fees, there is no negotiation or mutual agreement between the applicant and the PIO regarding the payment terms. The applicant is obliged to pay the prescribed fees as per the statutory provisions of the RTI Act, and the PIO is bound by law to provide the requested information upon receipt of the application and the requisite fee.

Remedies and Consequences:

Failure to pay RTI fees does not result in contractual remedies or legal consequences similar to a breach of contract. However, Section 7(2) of the RTI Act stipulates that if the applicant fails to make the prescribed payment, the PIO may reject the application. Non-payment of fees can lead to the rejection or delay in processing the application, hindering the applicant's right to access information but without invoking contractual remedies. A breach of contract may lead to legal consequences, such as the payment of damages or specific performance. However, the failure to pay RTI fees does not result in contractual remedies. Instead, it may lead to the rejection or delay in processing the application, as non-compliance with the statutory requirement may hinder the PIO's obligation to provide the requested information.

Nature of the Relationship:

A contract establishes a legal relationship with rights and obligations for both parties involved. On the other hand, the payment of RTI fees does not create a legal relationship between the applicant and the PIO. The fee payment is a procedural requirement to ensure the functioning of the RTI Act, and it does not confer any additional rights or privileges upon the applicant.

Under the RTI Act, the payment of fees for an information request differs significantly from a contract. The Act mandates the payment of fees as a statutory requirement, without establishing a contractual relationship between the applicant and the PIO. The fees are pre-determined and not subject to negotiation, and the failure to pay may result in the rejection or delay in processing the application.

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David   10 Jul 2023 1:25pm
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