The Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) has cooked up a breach of parliamentary privilege to bully another department to identify 'leak' of the notification, bringing the new Right to Information rules into force.
HT had accessed the new RTI rules and uploaded the gazette notification on its website - hindustantimes.com - in early August. The notification was subsequently widely circulated on the internet by RTI activists.
The new RTI rules came into effect on July 31. It has introduced a 500-word limit on RTI applications, allowed public authorities to charge postal charges in excess of Rs. 50 from applicants and spelt out the format for filing appeals.
The department, which directly reports to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, appeared to have taken offence to the public getting hold of the order before it bothered to collect its copy on August 9, 2012.
"It has come to the notice of this department that during the intervening period, the scanned copy of the said rules was available on the internet," RK Girdhar, the DoPT under-secretary, said in a letter to the government's printing press.
For effect, Girdhar marked a copy of the letter to the urban development department secretary who oversees the department of publication.
And he went on to invent a breach of parliamentary privileges. "The RTI Rules 2012 are yet to be laid on the table of Parliament and availability of the said rules on the internet or otherwise amounts to breach of privilege of Parliament," the DoPT official said.
"It is therefore requested to clarify as to whether a copy of the said rules was given to any agency or individual during the period between July 31 and August 9, 2012? If so, kindly give the details of that agency/individual," Girdhar wrote.
All rules under a law have to be placed in Parliament within six months of its notification. Parliament then has the power to vote out a particular provision or the whole notification.
But there is no bar on making them public before Parliament is formally informed.
"This is ridiculous. How are people expected to file applications or appeals if they do not know the rules," asked retired naval officer and RTI activist Lokesh Batra who was reluctantly provided access to the DoPT letter under the RTI Act.
Government officials agree. To the contrary, a senior government official confirmed, the entire idea of notifying decisions in the gazette is to inform people about a decision.