Friday, October 22, 2021

Rajnath Singh Approves Policy on Archiving, Declassification of War Histories

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday approved the policy on archiving, declassification and compilation of histories of wars and operations by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). “Timely publication of war histories would give people accurate account of the events, provide authentic material for academic research and counter the unfounded rumours,” the MoD’s statement noted. In a significant decision, the MoD issued the policy under which each organisation under it such as the Army, Air Force, Navy, Integrated Defence Staff, Assam Rifles and Indian Coast Guard, will transfer the records — including war diaries, letters of proceedings and operational record books — to the ministry’s History Division for proper upkeep, archival and writing of histories.

“The responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organisations as specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and the Public Record Rules 1997,” the MoD’s statement noted. According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years. It is for the first time that a government has issued a policy regarding declassification of defense-related information.

However, it is not immediately clear if details and documents related to India’s conflict with China in 1962 and Indian Army’s Operation Bluestar in 1984 will be declassified under this policy or not. When asked, officials indicated that a high-level committee at the MoD would decide these matters on a case-to-case basis. It has been more than a year since the military standoff between the armies of India and China erupted in eastern Ladakh on May 5, 2020, during which there were fatalities on both sides for the first time in 45 years. India and China have made limited progress in achieving disengagement at the Pangong lake area while negotiations for similar steps at other friction points remained deadlocked.

The MoD stated on Saturday: “Records older than 25 years should be appraised by archival experts and transferred to the National Archives of India once the war/operations histories have been compiled.” The History Division will be responsible for coordination with various departments while compiling, seeking approval and publishing of histories of wars and operations, it mentioned. “The policy mandates constitution of a committee headed by joint secretary, MoD and comprising of representatives of the tri-services, MEA (Ministry of External Affairs), MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) and other organisations and prominent military historians (if required), for compilation of war and operations histories,” it noted. The policy also set clear timelines with regard to compilation and publication of histories of wars and operations, it mentioned.

“The above-mentioned committee should be formed within two years of completion of war/operations. Thereafter, collection of records and compilation should be completed in three years and disseminated to all concerned,” it stated. The requirement of having war histories written with clear cut policy on declassification of war records was recommended by the Kargil Review Committee headed by K Subrahmanyam as well as N N Vohra Committee in order to analyse lessons learnt and prevent future mistakes.

“Post Kargil War in 1999, GoM (Group of Ministers) recommendations on national security also mentioned the desirability of authoritative war history,” the statement mentioned.

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