The oath of secrecy administered to a Union or state minister while assuming office will continue and it will not be replaced by an oath of transparency as recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its report on “Right to information: Master key to good governance”.
Further, the recommendation by the ARC to repeal the Official Secrets Act (OSA) has also not been accepted by the government.
A Union minister, while assuming office, is administered an oath of secrecy as follows: “I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person or persons any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as a Minister for the Union except as may be required for the due discharge of my duties as such Minister.”
A Minister in the State Government takes a similar oath. The ARC in its report had said, “The existence of this provision of oath of secrecy and its administration along with the oath of office appears to be a legacy of the colonial era where the public was subjugated to the government. However, national security and larger public interest considerations of the country’s integrity and sovereignty may require a minister or a public servant with sufficient justification not to disclose information. But a very public oath of secrecy at the time of assumption of office is both unnecessary and repugnant to the principles of democratic accountability, representative government and popular sovereignty. Therefore, the obligation not to disclose official secrets may be built in through an appropriate insertion of a clause in the national security law dealing with official secrets. If required, such an undertaking may be taken in writing, thus avoiding public display of propensity to secrecy”.
The ARC recommended that the oath of secrecy may be dispensed with and substituted by a statutory arrangement and a written undertaking.
Further, keeping in view the spirit of the RTI Act to promote transparency, the ARC suggested that it would be appropriate if ministers on assumption of office were administered an oath of transparency along with the oath of office.
The Government of India has said, “The recommendations were not accepted because in spite of the RTI Act, a Union Minister will be required to maintain official secrets”.
Similarly, the ARC has further recommended saying, “The Official Secrets Act (OSA), 1923 should be repealed, and substituted by a chapter in the National Security Act, containing provisions relating to official secrets”. Rejecting this recommendation, the Government of India has said, “The recommendation has not been accepted. OSA is the only law to deal with the cases of espionage, wrongful possession and communication of sensitive information detrimental to the security of the state. This law has stood the test of time and has a very high conviction rate”.
It further said, “The National Security Act (NSA) provides for preventive powers to deal with likely threats to maintenance of public order and security of the country, maintenance of essential services etc. It provides for preventive detention but does not define any substantive offence. On the other hand, the OSA is a substantive law”.