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India’s Official Secrets Act

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


What to study?

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


Why in News?  Supreme Court has rejected the Centre’s twin arguments and ruled that classified documents accessed by the media on the Rafale fighter jet deal can be admitted as evidence and agreed to review its own order that the government had interpreted as a clean chit.

The court upheld the right of The Hindu newspaper to publish documents that the government had described as “stolen”. “The right of such publication would seem to be in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.


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:

  1. 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.
  2. Under Section 5, both the person communicating the information, and the person receiving the information, can be punished by the prosecuting agency.
  3. 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.
  4. 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: the hindu.

Mains Question: “Secrecy in government operations is necessary, but it has to be limited by absolute necessity, keeping the confidentiality strictly time-bound.” In the light of recent debate on Official Secrets Act 1923, critically comment on the statement.


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