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India’s Official Secrets Act, its history and use

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Topics Covered:

  1. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

India’s Official Secrets Act, its history and use

 

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Key features of the act, concerns over certain provisions and the need for review.

 

Why in News? Attorney-General’s request for “criminal action” against those responsible for making “stolen documents” on the Rafale deal public, has brought the Official Secrets Act into focus.

 

About Official Secrets Act:

The law meant for ensuring secrecy and confidentiality in governance, mostly on national security and espionage issues.

  • The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904 was enacted during the time of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905.
  • One of the main purposes of the Act was to muzzle the voice of nationalist publications.
  • The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) replaced the earlier Act, and was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country.

 

Ambit of the Act:

The secrecy law broadly deals with two aspects — spying or espionage, which is dealt with in Section 3 of the Act, and disclosure of other secret information of the government, which is dealt with in Section 5. The secret information can be any official code, password, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information.

 

Need for review:

  • Since the classification of secret information is so broad, it is argued that the colonial law is in direct conflict with the Right to Information Act.
  • Under Section 5, both the person communicating the information, and the person receiving the information, can be punished by the prosecuting agency.
  • The SARC report states that as the OSA’s background is the colonial climate of mistrust of people and the primacy of public officials in dealing with the citizens, it created a culture of secrecy.
  • Another contentious issue with the law is that its Section 5, which deals with potential breaches of national security, is often misinterpreted. The Section makes it a punishable offence to share information that may help an enemy state. The Section comes in handy to book journalists when they publicise information that may cause embarrassment to the government or the armed forces.

 

Sources: Indian express.

Mains Question: It is often argued that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) which is of 1923 vintage and a complicated piece of legislation has no reason to remain on our statute books after the Right to Information Act of 2005. In the light of leak of important information from key ministries of the union government, critically comment.