ARC for substitution of Official Secrets Act

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New Delhi, Nov 27 (UNI) Home Minister Shivraj Patil today told the Lok Sabha that the Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) in its report ''Right to Information - Master Key to Good Governance'' has inter-alia recommended that the Official Secrets Act (OSA), 1923, be repealed and substituted by a chapter in the National Security Act, 1980, containing provisions relating to official secrets.

Replying during the question hour, he said it also recommended that the existing section 5 of OSA should be reformulated on the lines recommended by the Shourie Committee.

Mr Patil said the Government was of the view that the OSA is the only law dealing with spying and wrongful possession and communication of secret information and therefore, it should remain in the statute book.

He, however, said the recommendation of the ARC to reformulate the existing section 5 of OSA was being considered by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Responding to another question on the cases registered with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr Patil said the maintenance of law and order including ''police'' and ''prison'' is the responsibility of the respective State Governments. The Centre and the NHRC had, however, been sensitizing State police forces inter-alia through regular training programmes of police officers and others in respect of the protection of human rights and prevention of human rights violations.

He said a model prison manual containing guidelines for the superintendence and management of prisons had also been circulated to the State Governments.

He said the NHRC had also been issuing directions/recommendations from time to time to the State Governments on reporting of custodial deaths and rapes within 24 hours to the commission, periodical health care and medical examination of undertrials and prisoners, visit by judicial officers to prisons at regular intervals to see the conditions of prisoners and for recommending suggestions for improvements and a standardized procedure to deal with custodial crimes and police encounters.

Responding to questions, Mr Patil said though jail and prison came under the exclusive jurisdiction of the States, the Centre had given Rs 1000 crore towards the improvement of the prisons but unfortunately that money had not been utilised.

Responding to another query, Mr Patil said the question of empowering NHRC with the legal powers so that they could also carry out actions could lead to several difficulties and hence that proposal had been dropped.


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