OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT (Syllabus: GS Paper 2 - Polity & Governance

News-CRUX-10     3rd August 2023        

Context: Between 2019 and 2021, 136 people were arrested under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and two were convicted, the government told the Rajya Sabha

Official Secrets Act (OSA)

  • The OSA has its roots in the Colonial era. 
  • The original version was The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act XIV), 1889. 
  • This was brought in with the main objective of muzzling the voice of a large number of newspapers that had come up in several languages, and were opposing the Raj’s policies, building political consciousness and facing police crackdowns and prison terms. 
  • It was amended and made more stringent in the form of The Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904, during Lord Curzon’s tenure as Viceroy of India. 
  • In 1923, a newer version was notified. 
  • The Indian Official Secrets Act (Act No XIX of 1923) was extended to all matters of secrecy and confidentiality in governance in the country.
  • It broadly deals with two aspects - spying or espionage, covered under Section 3, and disclosure of other secret information of the government, under Section 5. 
  • Secret information can be any official code, password, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document, or information. 
  • Under Section 5, both the person communicating the information and the person receiving the information can be punished.
  • Punishments under the Act range from three years to life imprisonment (if the intent is to declare war against India - section 5). 
  • A person prosecuted under this Act can be charged with the crime even if the action was unintentional and not intended to endanger the security of the state. 
  • 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.

  • For classifying a document, a government Ministry or Department follows the Manual of Departmental Security Instructions, 1994, not under OSA. 
  • Also, OSA itself does not say what a “secret” document is. It is the government’s discretion to decide what falls under the ambit of a “secret” document to be charged under OSA. 
  • It has often been argued that the law is in direct conflict with the Right to Information Act, 2005.