With the most recent incident of Patan Kumar Poddar, a JCO of Indian Army, who was arrested on Wednesday (August 6, 2014) on the charges of espionage activities, there arise a need to know what does the Official Secrets Act 1923 talk about for his confession of involvement in espionage activities is a case of true violation of the provisions of the Official Secret Act.
The Official Secrets Act 1923 is India’s anti espionage act has been in force from British colonisation. According to this act, any action which involves helping an enemy state against India is a national crime. Also, the said act 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 take any form varying from communicating a sketch, plan, model of an official secret, or of official codes or passwords to the enemy. In a nutshell, the disclosure of any information that is likely to affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, or friendly relations with foreign States, are punishable.
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. Violation of the provisions mentioned in the act may lead to punishments under the Act ranging from 3 to 14 years imprisonment. The Act only empowers persons in positions of authority to handle official secrets, and others who handle it in prohibited areas or outside they are liable for punishment.
The official secret act 1923 clearly states that in any proceedings against a person for an offence under this Act, the fact that he has been in communication with, or attempted to communicate with a foreign agent, whether within or without India is relevant and enough to necessitate prosecution. Also, according to this act, if required, even the journalists also have to help members of the police forces above the rank of the sub-Inspector and members of the Armed forces with an investigation regarding an offence, up to and including revealing his sources of information.
When a company is seen as the offender under this Act, everyone involved with the management of the company including the board of directors can be liable for punishment. In the case of a newspaper everyone including the editor, publisher and the proprietor can be jailed for an offence.
Uninterested members of the public may be excluded from court proceedings if the prosecutions feel that any information which is going to be passed on during the proceedings is sensitive. This also includes media; so the journalists will not be allowed to cover that particular case. Under the Act, search warrants may be issued at any time if the magistrate feels that based on the evidence in front of them there is enough danger to the security of the state.
The Constitution of Republic of India clearly guarantees many rights to the citizens of India with a clause that such rights should not affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, or friendly relations with foreign States.
Despite the fact every provision has been made in the official secrets act 1923, there is a need for its revision as the act is almost 100 years old and need to be revitalized in accordance to the changing societies and the contemporary ways and means through which the vital information could be passed.
Social networking is a very new media issue and should be taken utmost care for. The information passed through this medium may pose a heavy threat to the nation’s security. Considering the very fact, including this new medium, a revitalized act may be formulated.