Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam: Paper - III (General Studies – II) - 14 March 2019


Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam


UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-III: General Studies -II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Q. What is the Official Secrets act? Has the act become archaic and irrelevant in today’s times of free information?

Model Answer:

  • Introduction
  • Features: Official secrecy act – 1923
  • Positive aspects
  • Lacunae
  • Relevance
  • Second press commission recommendation
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

The constitutional freedom to use and publicise information is directly affected by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which as with most of British India enactments followed the Official Secrets Act, 1920, passed by the British Parliament.

It was strict enough then but after Independence in ‘free India’ it was amended and made stricter in 1967, widening the scope of Section 5 (“Wrongful communication. etc., of information”) and enlarging the scope of Section 8 (“Duty of giving information as to commission of offences”).

Features: Official secrecy act – 1923

  • The Official Secret Act 1923 is India's anti-espionage act held over from the British colonial period.
  • It states clearly that actions which involve helping an enemy state against India are strongly condemned.
  • It also states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area.
  • According to this Act, helping the enemy state can be in the form of communicating a sketch, plan, model of an official secret, or of official codes or passwords, to the enemy.

Positive aspects:

  • Protecting national security.
  • Securing datas from the increasing cruel cyber crime cases.
  • Soverignity of the nation is protected.

 Lacunaes of act which made it more archaic in today’s times:

  • Doesn’t undergo any changes over the years even after Independence also.
  • It doesn’t define secret which is misused by Public servants terming any information secret when asked under the RTI Act.

Relevance:

  • Press (and no longer the electronic media) is regarded as the champion of Article 19(1)(a) freedoms.
  • In his famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln described good governance as “of the people, by the people and for the people”. 
  • Centuries later we do understand the “of”, and are willing to tolerate the “by” but unfortunately we keep forgetting the “for”. If government is indeed for the people, it has a solemn obligation to keep the people well informed.

Second Press Commission:

  • Janata government which came to power at the end of the Internal Emergency, and set up what was then known (and is now forgotten) as the Second Press Commission, it was chaired by a great and good judge, Justice Goswami of the Supreme Court of India, whose common sense approach to all subjects greatly attracted me to him.
  • The Commission proceeded in great earnestness for months, and ultimately, when its report was ready in December 1979, a report that implored the government of the day toimmediately repeal the Official Secrets Act, 1923, it never saw the light of day. 
  • It was replaced by the now officially known Second Press Commission presided over by Justice K.K. Mathew.
  • The Official Second Press Commission (the Mathew Commission) did not recommend the repeal of the Official Secrets Act of 1923.

 Earlier efforts towards less secrecy:

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations way back in 1966, specifically includes the right to freedom of expression, defined as “the freedom to seek, receive and impart the information and ideas of all kinds”.
  • The Janata government signed and ratified this Covenant in 1979, but none of the later Governments has lived up to its ideals.
  • We have enacted Article 19(1)(a) in our 1950 Constitution with extremely limited restrictions — in Article 19(2) — but again only paid lip service to freedom of speech and expression.

Conclusion

  • Fortunately, the modern trend in today’s world is towards less secrecy and more information. 
  • Editor’s guild of India said it undermines the media’s freedom and independence.
  • Law Commission too did not recommend any changes to the Act despite its frequent misuse.
  • Rafale is not solely India’s interest but people too are stakeholders of it. Undermining the data and even accusing the media for display of documents is against article 19.

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