Will the Official Secrets Act, 1923 be amended?
In the light of increasing demands for declassification of the files relating to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the Centre has set up a inter-ministerial committee headed by the cabinet secretary Ajit Seth to review the Official Secrets Act. The Committee shall hold its first meeting today and shall senior officials from the Intelligence Bureau, RAW and the PMO. Following the disclosure of the fact that the Intelligence Bureau had spied on Bose's family for over 20 years, there had been a resurgence of interest in the disclosure of files related to Bose. His family members have demanded declassification of around 64 secret files with the state government and over 100 files with the central government. Earlier, such information was denied to RTI applicants claiming that their disclosure would affect India's relations with some foreign countries. During the visit of PM Narendra Modi to Germany, the Bose's great-nephew Surya Bose had met him in Berlin on Monday and with a request to declassify all files on Netaji.
Apart from the looking into the classified information on Bose to decide what can be made public, the Committee is likely to re-examine the definition of what is “top secret”, “secret” and “classified” under the Official Secrets Act. OSA is a British-era secrets act which was amended by the Indian Government in 1967 to make it even more stringent. Punishments under the Act range from three to fourteen years imprisonment and a person can be charged with the crime even if the action was unintentional and not intended to endanger the security of the state. It is expected that the Union home secretary L.C. Goyal shall meet the secretaries of other ministries like law and DoPT to take up a review of the OSA and suggest ways to for amendment in the law to make it in tune with the RTI Act and the emerging realities. There appears little need to classify an information which is already in the public domain as secret and government has been accused of misusing the OSA to hold back information. Most democracies in the world have a policy of declassifying the records after a certain period of time usually ranging from 20 to 50 years. The Right to Information Act too gives certain relaxation for making the documents public after 20 years of occurrence of the event.