Do we want to keep these secrets?

Making civil society more vigilant towards the working of its government and to ensure its accountability was the reason the Right to Information Act was enacted.

india Updated: Jun 12, 2006 00:09 IST

A government of the people would be a misnomer as long as it institutionalises secrecy in its functioning. In fact, it was with the very aim of making civil society more vigilant towards the working of its government and to ensure its accountability that the Right to Information Act was enacted last year. Disclosure of official information was considered key to strengthening public opinion and policy-making. Yet, the very existence of the Official Secrets Act, 1923 — a legislation from an era that has little bearing with today’s Independent India — has trumped the effort of the RTI Act to allow greater public scrutiny of the government. It is for this reason that the government should heed the advice of the second Administrative Reforms Commission — set up by the Manmohan Singh government last year — to scrap this piece of legislation.

The Official Secrets Act, enacted at a time when fear of espionage was real, justifies keeping many official documents and information — besides those concerning our intelligence and security forces — secret under the rubric of protecting national security. Lately, this Act has been much abused to override freedom of information requests and to suppress facts that should rightfully be in the public domain. More frightfully, its draconian provisions also leave it open to misuse. Inviting, as it does, imprisonment for anything between three to 14 years, the Act does not deem it “necessary to show that the accused person was guilty of any particular act tending to show a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State”. This is in complete contravention of the freedoms enclosed in our Constitution.

The Administrative Reforms Commission’s suggestion that subjects concerning the country’s security be transferred to the National Security Act, while revoking the Official Secrets Act is surely in public interest. After all, as it stands today, who do these ‘terribly important secrets’ really seek to protect?

First Published: Jun 12, 2006 00:09 IST