Amendment in the Official Secrets Act opposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs
In 2006, the first report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) on the Right to Information (RTI) had recommended repeal of the Official Secrets Act (OSA), 1923 and had sought insertion of a new chapter in the National Security Act (NSA) to deal with espionage. Subsequently, a core group on administrative reforms examined the recommendation and forwarded them to a Group of Ministers' (GoM) for a decision. In 2008, the GoM headed by Pranab Mukherjee, accepted nearly 62 recommendations of the ARC. However the proposal for repeal of the OSA was rejected with a suggestion to amend the OSA in order to avoid the ambiguity in defining the terms ‘secret’, ‘espionage’ and ‘enemy state’. It was hoped that such amendment would guard against use of the OSA to block the free flow of information.
Over the past seven years, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has discussed the proposed amendments with the other concerned ministries and agencies dealing with the matter. Figures showed that the OSA has been frugally used over the years, with just an average of approximately 24 annual violations. The MHA is reportedly taking the view that the OSA poses little possibility of misuse and is unlikely to cause any threat to the free flow of information. Hence, it is likely to convey to the Cabinet secretariat that there appears no need to go through the legislative processes of amending OSA as the Act seems to be fine as it is.
RTI activists have repeatedly taken up the issue of amending the OSA which they claim to be a barrier to the free flow of information. They point to the reply of the government to a RTI application which said that the declassification policy, or the basis on which a document is marked secret or confidential, is also a secret under OSA.