The NDA government has constituted a committee to examine the provisions of the Official Secrets Act (OSA), framed by the British in 1923, in the light of the Right To Information Act (RTI), amid growing clamour to declassify the files related Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
The first meeting of the panel, which consists of Secretaries of Home, Law and Personnel, would be held Thursday. Even though the contents of the cases registered under the OSA do not come under the purview of the RTI, the government has been making attempts to bring a harmony between the two, especially in cases that are more than 20 years old and files of which can be declassified.
A senior government official said the committee would examine certain provisions of the OSA and the RTI Act and whether and how many old official files could be declassified. He, however, maintained the move had nothing to do specifically with the files pertaining to Netaji.
Former chief information commissioner M M Ansari, however, slammed the government’s move and said: “There is a 40 per cent rejection of cases filed under the RTI by the public authorities. What do they want to achieve by bring a harmony between the two? Section 8 of the RTI already exists and exempts the authorities from revealing anything, which they feel is against the national security. This is another attempt to stifle the RTI movement.”
Ansari said a harmony could have been reached, had there been a conflict between the two. “There is no conflict between the two Acts, they are different. It is a serious attempt to water down the provisions of the Right to Information movement… RTI activists across the country are already suffocating,” said Ansari.
The OSA enacted in 1923 has not been amended even once. During the UPA government’s time, attempts were made amend the OSA after a group of ministers (GoM) recommended for it. The MHA had then opposed the move, saying the Act had stood the test of time. In 2006, the UPA government begun a process to review the anti-espionage law when the first report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission on the RTI sought repeal of the Act and insertion of a new chapter in the National Security Act to deal with espionage.
The recommendations were forwarded to the GoM headed President Pranab Mukherjee, then a Union minister, which accepted 62 suggestions, but rejected repeal of the OSA. It, however, was in favour of amendment to the OSA, so that it could not be used in a blanket way to stall information under the RTI.