DMPQ- How are the official documents in India are classified ? Analyse the impact of RTI on Official Secrets Act.

Section 8 of RTI Act exempts certain items from being disclosed through an RTI. Section 22 only covers overriding of provisions of Official Secrets Act, 1923 that are inconsistent with those of RTI Act, the documents classified under OSA are not covered. Therefore, Official Secrets Act may cause hinderance. It is a loophole that has to be eliminated.

Based on the level of sensitivity of the information and the implications of its disclosure for national security, the official documents in India are classified as:

  • Top Secret
  • Secret
  • Confidential
  • Restricted



Top Secret

It is for information whose unauthorised disclosure may cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security or national interest. This category is reserved for the nation’s closest secrets.


It is for information whose disclosure may result in “serious damage” to national security or national interest, or serious embarrassment to the government. It is generally used for “highly important matters”. Normally it is the highest classification used.


It is for information that might cause “damage” to national security, be prejudicial to national interest, might embarrass the government.


It is applied to information meant only for official use and is not to be published or communicated to any person except for official purposes. Documents which are not classified are regarded as “Unclassified”.

Criteria for classification: Despite of requests from activists, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has not disclosed the criteria for classification. The Official Secrets Act does not define the term ‘secret’ or the phrase ‘official secrets’. Further, the public servants enjoy substantial discretion to classify anything as ‘secret’. The classification is decided in accordance with Departmental Security Instructions issued by the MHA. The Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure (Thirteenth edition), published in September 2010, has details of how classified documents will be treated, but there is no mention of the criteria for classification of documents.


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