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Don’t expect quick action on official secrets Act

india Updated: Sep 24, 2007 01:52 IST
Aloke Tikku
Aloke Tikku
Hindustan Times
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The government has constituted a committee to examine recommendations of a reforms body to scrap the Official Secrets Act.

But the law that again came in handy last week to book a retired army officer for writing a highly critical book is unlikely to disappear in a hurry.

In its first report last year, the Administrative Reforms Commission had backed demands that the 1923-vintage law be taken off the statute and safeguards for state security be built into a consolidated National Security Act.

An official at the department of personnel and training - that is coordinating follow-up action on the commission's first report and formed the first level of committee - said they were yet to get a formal response from the home ministry that administers the secrecy law.

The home ministry is unwilling to let go of the powerful legislation.

"It is the only legislation against spies… it has withstood the test of time," an official said. He, however, added that the ministry may be open to discussing "catch all provisions" that the ARC had spoken against.

The commission had noted how provisions of the law could be used to charge just about anyone with violations.

Major General (retd) VK Singh who was charged last week for revealing a little too much about the external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, was booked under a provision that the ARC said was "a catch all provision".

"Any kind of information is covered by this section if it is classified as secret," the commission noted.

Most government information of any consequence is classified as secret.

Journalist Iftikhar Gilani spent seven months behind bars in 2002 after intelligence agencies found "classified documents" relating to deployment of troops and accused him of spying for Pakistan.

He was let off only when the military intelligence director general told the court that the document recovered from Gilani's computer was freely available on the Internet.