Rocked by a high-profile corporate espionage scandal, the NDA government has decided to set up a committee to go into the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, as it weighed the possibility of freeing up more information — including Cabinet notes — on the public domain.
The committee will propose amendments to the Official Secrets Act 1923, if required, to make it more amenable to information needs in a new economy, apart from changes in the security of government buildings to track visitors and control their access more strictly.
Top bureaucrats heading key ministries, who took part in a meeting on Tuesday to reassess the country’s official-secrecy regime, said a majority of the notes prepared for the Cabinet — often the sort of documents media and business houses covet — need not be “secret” and could easily be put up on ministerial websites in advance.
The bureaucrats were of the view that a culture of over-classification, that shields too much from the public, had given rise to corruption. Far too many government documents were being wrongly classified “secret”. Cabinet notes were not secret documents by default unless they dealt with predefined issues deemed classified, such as “national security”, the meeting concluded.
Although the committee will recommended the final changes, Cabinet secretary Ajit Seth and most bureaucrats said access of public visitors should meanwhile be restricted to senior officials in the rank of a joint secretary.
Reporters ought to meet senior-rank officials too, it was suggested. Seth said ministries need to take greater care in what it labels secret.
Police have so far arrested eight people on charges of stealing official documents from the petroleum ministry and selling them to energy consultants, after uncovering a corporate espionage ring on February 20.