De-classification of files: How does India compare to the rest of the world?

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With the West Bengal government de-classifying the files pertaining to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the ball is now in the court of the Union Government which is said to have nearly 200 files on the subject.

De-classification of files has been an often debated subject. Several researchers say that it is extremely difficult to access documents and a lot of the rules regarding this subject mainly remain on paper.


India does have rules when it comes to de-classification. The rules of de-classification are mentioned in the Public Records Rules of 1997.

The Public Records Rules of 1997

The Public Records Rules, 1997, state that records that are 25 years or more must be preserved in the National Archives of India. It further states that no records can be destroyed without being recorded or reviewed.

Further it is also stated that each department which have classified files prepare an half yearly report on reviewing of records and submit the same to the National Archives of India.

Further it is also stated that unless it is appraised, no public record which is over 25 years old can be destroyed.

While there is a 25 year old rule on de-classification, the rider is that such documents can be kept classified in the interest of the security of the nation.

It states that de-classifying historic documents shall not jeopardize the security of the country.

The de-classification is meant to be done as per the manual of department of security instructions which is issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Researchers argue that this is the rider that the governments often deploy when they do not want files out in the public domain.

Who decides what is in the interest of national security and what is not, researchers also argue. They also argue that there are rules regarding de-classification, but most of them remain on paper while stating the need to have more transparency.

Rules remain on paper

Anuj Dhar, a leading researcher on the Bose files says that files ought to be de-classified in national interest. The rules do state that the files should be handed over to the NAI.

But what does one do if the PMO holds the files? There is no way of accessing the files even after 25 years if it is held by the PMO, he says.

Dhar and several others have been campaigning that files have to be de-classified automatically after 25 years.

There is a need for transparency on the issue and it should get into administrative loop which prevents the de-classification of the files. An RTI application filed recently revealed that the PMO has 28,685 secret files with it.

How does the rest of the world deal with de-classification?

In the United States of America, under the order of the White House all secret records dating back 25 years are automatically de-classified on the 31st of December every year. However there could be some exceptions.

In the United Kingdom, records which are 30 years old are transferred to the Public Record Office and made public after another 20 years.

In Australia the National Archives allow citizens to access all records that are 30 years old. In South Africa, records of 20 years are transferred to the archives.

Researchers and RTI activists say that in most of these countries, the files are automatically de-classified. It is a process as per the rules and there are no second thoughts about it.

However in India, although we have rules there are several administrative issues that crop up which hampers the de-classification of files.

In most cases, either the government is not interested or it just quotes national security to keep the files de-classified.

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