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Official Secrets Act

Date: 21 September 2020 Tags: Bills & Laws


The Delhi police have arrested a strategic affairs analyst and two others -a Chinese woman and her Nepalese accomplice – under the Official Secrets Act (OSA). 



The police claimed that the analyst had passed on information such as the deployment of Indian troops on the border to Chinese intelligence officers.



  • OSA has its roots in the British 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.

  • 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.

  • One of the oldest and longest criminal trials involving OSA is the 1985 Coomar Narain spy case. Twelve former staff members in the Prime Minister’s Office and Rashtrapati Bhavan Secretariat were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2002.

  • They were found guilty of entering into a criminal conspiracy with officials of the French, Polish and German embassies, communicating secret official codes, classified documents, and information pertaining to defence, shipping, transport, finance, planning, and R&AW and Intelligent Bureau reports.

  • The other high-profile case was the ISRO spy case targeting scientist S Nambi Narayan. Before his acquittal, he had faced a criminal trial under OSA and was accused of passing on rocket and cryogenic technology to Pakistan for illegal gratification.

  • The most recent conviction under OSA came in 2018, when a Delhi court sentenced former diplomat Madhuri Gupta, who had served at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, to three years in jail for passing on sensitive information to the ISI.

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