When Information Technology Act 2000 was enacted way back in 2000, a few provisions were introduced in the Act to enable e-Governance. One amongst them was Section 8 which enabled the Government to maintain Gazettes in electronic form.

The section states:

8. Publication of rules, regulation, etc, in Electronic Gazette

Where any law provides that any rule, regulation, order, bye-law, notification or any other matter shall be published in the Official Gazette, then, such requirement shall be deemed to have been satisfied if such rule, regulation, order, bye-law, notification or any other matter is published in the Official Gazette or Electronic Gazette:

Provided that

where any rule, regulation, order, bye-law, notification or any other matters published in the Official Gazette or Electronic Gazette, the date of publication shall be deemed to be the date of the Gazette which was first published in any form

The obvious intention of introducing this section was to satisfy the legal requirements regarding publishing of Gazettes and to provide legal recognition to e-Gazettes. A normal reading of intention behind such a measure is to bring greater transparency, convenience and economy to the system of publishing Gazettes. It would be in order for the Government under this section to start publishing Gazettes in e-form and start discontinuing issue of paper based Gazette Notifications. Those who want a paper copy can always print out the e-documents. Incase the print copy is required for judicial purpose, they can get it certified under Section 65B of Indian Evidence Act.

The Government has now taken decisive steps to replace paper based transactions in filing of corporate IT returns as well as MCI returns. Similar steps in other functions of the Government are therefore in order. Gazette publication could be considered as one other initiative that is feasible to be converted from paper form to only electronic form.

After nearly 8 years since the legal enablement through ITA 2000, the  the Government of India took the first steps in publication of Gazette notifications in e-form when it launched the website http://egazette.nic.in/. The website which was launched in May 2008 (ref: press release) is maintained by the ministry of  urban department which earlier was entrusted with the functions of printing the gazette notifications.

While launching the website, it is reported that the Union Minister of Urban Development Shri Jaipal Reddy stated that this is an initiative to empower the citizens and bona fide users. He also reportedly stated that “e-Gazette will enable people to have access and obtain the Gazette notifications issued by the Government immediately on its uploading on payment of the prescribed price of that notification. The e-Gazette will also help the media, social activists and many users for various other purposes like research, court cases and settlement of legal documents to a great extent”.

The PIB sources stated that the Government expects to increase its revenue from the sales of Gazettes after this innovation which were presently around Rs 5 crores per annum.

It is observed from the website that what is available is PDF copies of printed gazette notifications which can be downloaded after payment of the required fee. If the user is aware of a notification, he can fill in the particulars and search for a copy.

While the facilitation of obtaining of a copy through the web is welcome, it is necessary to raise a serious objection to the Government’s intention in converting this e-Governance initiative to a “Revenue Generation Measure”. Gazette notifications are considered to be the rules of Governance of Citizens and every Citizen is entitled to know what are the rules under which he is governed without being required to pay for this information.

The website also appear to claim “Copyright” on the publication which is debatable since the information is already in the public domain. Even otherwise it is not ethical for the Government to claim “Copyright” on what is part of the rules of Governance.

It is also essential to remember that any Citizen may request the same information through the RTI process at a nominal cost. If every interested citizen files an RTI application for the gazette notifications on a CD, the efforts required to provide the same would be expensive.

Naavi.org therefore requests the Ministry of Urban Development to make every gazette notification downloadable free of cost by every Citizen of India.

If necessary, the Government may ask for registration based on citizenship verification in the form of Voter’s ID provided they have the mechanism to verify the same.

It is also suggested that the publication of the print form of the gazette may be discontinued if the Government wants to reduce costs.

We invite all public spirited like minded individuals and organizations in India to join in this campaign to get the Gazette Notifications online free of cost.

Naavi

(naavi@vsnl.com)

Founder Naavi.org and Chairman Digital Society Foundation

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