A little sunlight is the best disinfectant.” That overused piece of wisdom, formulated by American Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, is something most countries hold as self-evident by now. But India, for all its vaunted tradition of citizen freedom, is no better than a shadowy tinpot republic as long as it refuses to relinquish the obsolete Official Secrets Act (OSA).
Now the CBI plans to charge Major General (retd) V.K. Singh under the OSA for giving away “top-secret” information in a recent book about the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and endangering the country, waving away Singh’s claim that his revelations were intended to lay bare the corrupt dealings within the agency. Whatever the facts of the matter, the OSA itself is too powerful and all-encompassing a category — it can be used to prosecute Singh, just as it can be directed at someone for supposedly possessing classified information, even though this information is available to anyone who can access the internet. It can just as easily be used to harass ordinary citizens who, for whatever reason, are inconvenient to “the authorities”. Expanding state secrecy naturally directs suspicion at the government.
Having other legal avenues is precisely the point — there must be other ways to tackle breaches in sensitive matters affecting national security, foreign policy and law-enforcement, without resorting to the conceptually skewed OSA. Wherever possible, the rationale for placing anything out of the public domain must be made clear; and this should be case-by-case rather than summarily placing entire categories out of bounds. Even though the government’s inter-ministerial group recently suggested narrowing the ambit of the OSA and allowing greater scrutiny of such investigations, vetting by the home ministry, etc, the fact remains that an “official secrets” mentality is a colonial hand-me-down, patently at odds with a free, transparent and accountable democracy where the government and those it governs are on the same side. The Right to Information Act, possibly the crowning achievement of this government, will never be truly effective as long as the OSA exists and can be wielded against citizens who know too much.
There is no doubt that OSA1923 has been misused blatantly, more often than not and ,many a times,allegedly to settle scores.Also ,it is generally perceived that OSA is sometimes used to cover up organisational failures.
I firmly believe that OSA 1923,in its present draconian form is obsolete,archaic,and obnoxious,and definitely open to unchecked large scale misuse.
Now,should India have an Official Secret Act at all?
Answer is Emphatic YES.
There are a number of very sensitive issues involved,when dealing with strategic interests of a nation,be it geographical,physical,social,political ,diplomatic or economical .
What needs to be done is enactment of an absolutely afresh Secret Act ,incorporating HD Shourie's recommendatins in toto ,addessing national sovereignty and security concerns in today's transparent,hightech environment.
In an internet and google earth age,what was secret in licence raj is trash today.