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Gag for life on spooks

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  • Published 12.06.08

New Delhi, June 12: Those who really know can no longer tell.

The Centre has imposed life-time gag orders on officials handling “sensitive” assignments in a move with sweeping consequences for the security set-up.

From March 31 this year, all government spooks, spies and security personnel have had to sign an undertaking that they would “not publish in any manner, while in service or after retirement from service, any information which I have obtained by virtue of my working in the aforesaid organisation”.

The order came just a week before Major General (retired) V.K. Singh was chargesheeted by the CBI for revealing “secrets of the Research and Analysis Wing”. Singh’s revelations, especially portions critical of current RAW chief Ashok Chaturvedi, had irked the establishment.

The order of the personnel ministry, published in the Gazette of India on March 31, 2008, is all-encompassing and stringent. Failure to adhere to the undertaking “shall be treated as grave misconduct” and the official concerned will be penalised with withdrawal/reduction of pension “in full or part” and prosecution.

Till these orders were issued, there was a cooling-off period of two years before a retired official could publish material or a book related to his posting in sensitive posts. For the armed forces, however, there was no prescribed cooling-off period.

But now officials of all such organisations — RAW, the IB, CBI, the army and various paramilitary forces — will come under the blanket ban. The government has taken great pains to explain the term “publication” as appearing in the undertaking. “It includes communication to the press or electronic media… or publication of any book, letter, pamphlet, poster or any other document in any form.”

Information that the officials cannot publish include that which is likely to “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific, or economic interests of the state, or in relation with a foreign state or which would lead to incitement of an offence”.

“Information” has been explained as any material in any form, “including records, documents, memos, emails, opinion, advice, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models and data material in any electronic form held or accessed by the government servant while in service”.

Vivek Garg of Manas publications, which published Singh’s book, said the gag order was “completely unconstitutional and would not stand scrutiny in a court of law if somebody challenges it”.

Along with Singh, Garg, also a lawyer, is accused of violating the Official Secrets Act.