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Thread: Relevance of Official Secrets Act now limited

  1. #1

    Relevance of Official Secrets Act now limited

    RTI Act will prevail if there’s any direct conflict, says CIC

    OSA is a colonial law that protects Govt from public. In a democracy, public is Govt... Custody of information held by Govt now with RTI: Habibullah

    NEW DELHI, OCTOBER 14: Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah has said he is “presuming” the Government is undertaking a review of the 1923 Official Secrets Act (OSA) — Major General (retired) V K Singh is its latest victim, booked for writing on corruption in the RAW — in view of the transparency regime ushered in by the 2005 Right to Information Act.

    Speaking to The Indian Express, Habibullah said: “I am very clear that when there is a direct conflict between the OSA and RTI Act, it is the RTI which prevails. The OSA cannot be used in a manner in which it is inconsistent with provisions of the RTI Act.”

    “The OSA is a colonial law that protects the Government from the public. In a democracy, the public is the Government. Earlier, OSA was the guiding principle in terms of custody of information held by the Government. Now custody of information held by the Government has been given to the RTI Act,” he said.

    According to Habibullah, even on the question of supplying information or documents marked “secret” (thereby, bringing it under OSA), the competent authority or information officer could use discretionary powers to disclose details. This, he said, was relevant, for instance, to Section 8 (j) of the RTI where a Central Public Information Officer can disclose personal information that has been sought provided “public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interests.”

    As per provisions of Section 8 (d) and (e) of the RTI, in case the RTI request pertains to commercial information or information to a person in his fiduciary relationship, the competent authority, if convinced that “larger public interest” is served, may part with it. The “competent authority”, Habibullah said, is the Department of Personnel and Training which holds administrative supervision of the RTI.

    “Even documents marked secret or confidential, which would normally attract provisions of the OSA, can be disclosed since the discretionary provision is there in the RTI Act. And if these requests are turned down, the applicant can always appeal to the CIC and argue about the public interest served. With such RTI provisions, the relevance of OSA has become very limited,” he said. His comments are significant given the fact that the Second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended scrapping of the OSA. The Ministry of Home Affairs is examining the recommendation.

  2. #2

    Secrets and Laws

    The government could do well to listen to the chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah on the Official Secrets Act. When there is a direct conflict between the OSA and the Right to Information Act, it is the latter that prevails, says Habibullah. Now, the CIC is only reiterating a provision in the RTI Act.

    The secrets Act, prepared in 1923, was an imperial tool meant to serve the interests of a colonial enterprise. It served its purpose under the colonial administration. Unfortunately, it has had a life too long. Such an Act has no place in a democracy and ought to have been repealed right after independence. Then why has it been in circulation all this while? Simple. Bureaucrats love it and their political bosses find it a convenient tool to guard their interests.

    That seems to be the case even after the RTI Act was legislated in 2005. Recently, the OSA was invoked against a former RAW official for writing about corruption in the country's premier investigating agency. Of course, a lot of material that the RAW handles could be considered classified information. But what is classified about corruption? If a retired public official seeks to blow the lid on corruption in the organisation he has worked, why do we scream that official secrets have been compromised? The whistle-blower is necessary and has an important role in democracy. We actually need a law to protect the whistle-blower, not archaic laws that encourage secrecy in the conduct of public affairs.

    The RTI Act clearly states that it overrides the OSA and the Second Administrative Reforms Commission recently asked for scrapping it. No one thinks that official secrets need not be guarded, but the provisions of RTI Act are sufficient to protect the interests of citizens. The crucial difference between the OSA and the RTI Act is that the latter privileges ‘the right of the citizen to know' over the public officials' ‘right to secrecy'.

    This includes even personal information concerning public officials if ‘public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests'. No cause for complaint here since this is how it ought to be in a democracy.
    The government should now be concerned about giving teeth to the RTI Act. The Act is meant to give voice to the civil society and create a watchdog independent of the state. That's possible only if information commissions are representative of the diversity in society. At the moment, information commissions, in states as well as at the Centre, have become parking lots for retired bureaucrats. That defeats the purpose and the mandate of the institution. These commissions should not become the exclusive domain of Officers, but include other professionals also, as the Act envisages. Meanwhile, let us bury the OSA for good.

  3. #3

    Official Secrets Act a bottleneck in RTI success?

    New Delhi: It’s been two years since Right to Information came into effect and over the last couple of years the Central Information Commission is receiving many appeals against the functioning of many public sector companies.

    Out of the nearly 10,000 appeals received, the CIC has disposed over 6,000, that’s a 60 per cent strike rate. However, much more needs to be done as over 4,000 cases are still pending
    “The drag is between six to eight months and we would want to reduce it to three months. We are thinking of ways and means by which the situation can be improved,” says Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah.

    Of course, it's the self which matters to nearly 30 to 50 per cent of the information seekers, The appellants want to know more about promotions, transfers , service benefits and pension

    One of the noticeable trends is over the last year the commission has been giving directions to various public sector giants like ONGC, BHEL, SAIL to be more transparent in their functioning.

    But is the Official Secrets' Act a bottleneck?

    “I can see that the OSA doesn’t come in our way any way,” says Information Commissioner M M Ansari.

    But it's a long road ahead. Sources within the commission admit that RTI still faces a great deal of resistance from Government departments and this is reflected in more than 50 cases various Government departments like DoPT, UPSC, Ministry of Home Affairs have challenged.

    Wednesday October 17, 04:14 PM
    Official Secrets Act a bottleneck in RTI success? - Yahoo! India News


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