How exactly is ‘Top Secret’, ‘Secret’, ‘Confidential’ and ‘Restricted’ defined?
The department of defence production has just announced it publicly while the Ministry of Home Affairs keeps the classification secret
For a clear vision, both eyes need to look at same direction. If this is not the case then the condition is called as cross-eyes or strabismus. Unfortunately, various ministries and departments of the Indian government are showing off this same condition. According to information procured under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) keeps record classification criteria secret, while Department of Defence Production (DDP) advertises it publicly!
Venkatesh Nayak from the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), says, "Since past several years, the MHA has stubbornly refused to disclose the criteria for marking official records 'Top Secret', 'Secret' and 'Confidential'. I demanded publication of the secretive Manual of Departmental Security Instructions (MoDSI), which contains the classification criteria and procedures under the RTI Act a few years ago and failed in my efforts. Even the Central Information Commission refused to order its disclosure despite hearing strong arguments based on legal concepts and international practices in support of disclosure."
"However," he said, "the Department of Defence Production (DDP) of the Ministry of Defence has laid down the criteria for and procedure for classifying records as 'Top Secret', 'Secret' and 'Confidential' in a manual publicised in June this year for- believe it or not - private sector companies and firms that obtain licenses for producing defence-related commodities. Readers may access the Security Manual for Licensed Defence Industries, on the DDP website.
The criteria for classifying sensitive documents of private companies engaged in defence production according to the manual are given below:
“TOP SECRET” shall be applied to information and equipment, the unauthorised disclosure of which could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security or national Interest. This category is reserved for the nation’s closest SECRETs and is to be used with great reserve.
“SECRET” shall be applied to information and equipment, the unauthorized disclosure of which could be expected to cause serious damage to the National Security or National Interests or cause serious embarrassment to the Government in its functioning. This classification should be used for highly important matters and is the highest classification normally used.
“CONFIDENTIAL” shall be applied to information and equipment, the unauthorised disclosure of which could be expected to cause damage to National Security or could be prejudicial to the National Interests or would embarrass the Government in its functioning.
“RESTRICTED” shall be applied to information and equipment which is essentially meant for official use only and which should not be published or communicated, to anyone except for official purpose.
Nayak said, "While arguing my case, before the CIC in 2009, I had pointed out that rules and regulations themselves cannot be kept secret. The CIC in its wisdom did not buy that argument. However, the MoD thinks differently and that should be welcomed. I had also pointed out last year that a chapter on classification procedures and criteria is published online in the Manual of Office Procedure of the Andaman and Nicobar Administration which is a division in the Home Ministry. This was the first instance of making the criteria for classifying official documents public. The DDP's disclosure is the second in this line of proactive disclosure. The Home Ministry has little reason to keep the original Manual secret."
In 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government lifted curbs on private sector participation in defence production. Since then the limit on foreign investments, including foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign institutional investment (FII) and foreign portfolio investment has been reduced bit by bit. At present, private companies can manufacture almost any kind of defence equipment in India ranging from battle tanks to aircrafts and their component parts as well as spare parts. Therefore, it is obvious that such private companies will be required to generate, or hold, a range of information whose public disclosure would be harmful to the defence and security interests of the country. This lead to creation of DDP's Manual containing instructions for classifying documents and also ensuring the safety of equipment and manufacturing or assembly premises.
Nayak said, "The wheel has turned a full circle since 2009 when the CIC bought the government's argument that if the MoDSI used in government offices is disclosed under RTI, it will fall into the hands of terrorists- an argument that the CIC bought hook, line and s(t)inker and rejected my appeal for disclosure. I wonder if the MHA, which was the party to my case still thinks that the Security Manual will also be used by terrorists as it is accessible online to any person sitting in any corner of the planet."
According to the DDP's website, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has issued 222 Letters of Intent or Industrial licenses to private companies. Of these 46 companies are reported to have commenced production as of August 2014 (see details on DDP's website. The DIPP has disclosed names and contact details of a range of companies that have been licensed to start production in various sectors of the economy including the defence sector.
Although DIPP has made this disclosure to comply with its proactive disclosure obligation under Section 4(1)(b)(xiii) of the RTI Act the extent and quality of disclosure leaves much to be desired, feels Nayak. In some cases, the total amount of investment approved is not known, in others the number of persons employed is not known. Perhaps readers might like to hunt for these details on MCA21 website if the private entity is registered as a company in India. All companies bringing in FDI must be registered in India according to the FDI policy relating to defence production. The DIPP must disclose similar details of all licensee companies immediately, to comply with the promise of increased transparency made by the NDA Government, he added.