Govt. forms panel to review Official Secrets Act

A high-level committee formed by the Union government to look into the provisions of the Official Secrets Act in the light of the Right to Information (RTI) Act is all set to meet for the first time under the chairmanship of the Home Secretary.

Purpose of this meet:

  • The meeting will start a long-awaited process to do away with excessive secrecy through amendments in the Official Secrets Act,
  • A law enacted by the British in 1923.
  • The committee was formed with aim to make changes to the Official Secrets Act to complete the transition from the secrecy regime of the past century to a more modern and democratic transparency regime.

Official Secrets Act:

  • It is India’s anti espionage (Spy” and “Secret agent”) act enacted in 1923 during the British Rule.
  • It states clearly that any action which involves helping an enemy state against India is illegal.
  • It also states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area.
  • According to this Act, helping the enemy state can be in the form of communicating a sketch, plan, model of an official secret, or of official codes or passwords, to the enemy.
  • The disclosure of any information that is likely to affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, or friendly relations with foreign States, is punishable by this act.
  • Punishments under the Act range from three to fourteen years imprisonment. A person prosecuted under this Act can be charged with the crime even if the action was unintentional and not intended to endanger the security of the state.
  • The Act only empowers persons in positions of authority to handle official secrets, and others who handle it in prohibited areas or outside them are liable for punishment.

Conflict with the RTI Act:

In Clause 6 of the Official Secrets Act, information from any governmental office is considered official information, hence it can be used to override Right to Information Act 2005 requests. This has drawn harsh criticism.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.

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