Aiming to amend the 94-year-old Official Secrets Act (OSA), the Union home ministry has reviewed the provisions of the colonial-era law so that it can be made compatible with the present democratic set-up, an official said. After a detailed review of the Official Secrets Act 1923, the ministry has submitted a report to the Cabinet secretariat with various suggestions on how to go about with the Act at a time when the country has embraced a transparency law.
The exercise was aimed at amending the OSA to make a seamless transition from the secrecy period of the 20th century to a modern and democratic transparency regime, the official said. The Right to Information Act, which facilitates access to government records, came into existence in 2005 and the new amended OSA may try to remove the contradictions between the two. Another official said the law may be amended with a modern outlook but without compromising on national security.
Punishments under the OSA range from three to 14 years’ imprisonment. A person prosecuted under the OSA can be charged with the crime even if the action was unintentional and not intended to endanger the security of the nation. The Act only empowers persons in positions of authority to handle official secrets and others who handle it in prohibited areas or outside them are liable for punishment.
The Cabinet secretariat, after analysing the home ministry report on the OSA, is expected to place it before the Union Cabinet, which will take a final view on the proposed amendments to the law, the official said.
The RTI Act overrides the provisions of the Official Secrets Act and any other law which has provisions inconsistent with the transparency law. Section 22 of the RTI Act clearly states that the provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.