War records will be open after 25 years; Government can withhold sensitive info
New Delhi: Defence ministry on Saturday announced a new policy to compile, publish, archive and declassify all war histories and histories of operations, under which everything will be officially recorded within five years, and will be handed over to the National Archives.
As per the new policy, war and operations history will be compiled within five years after the event and most war records will “ordinarily” be declassified within 25 years to "provide authentic material for academic research and counter the unfounded rumours". However, the government will continue to have discretionary powers over withholding any records it finds sensitive.
It’s unlikely that the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, which looked at the reasons behind India's defeat in the 1962 Sino-Indian war, will be declassified anytime soon even though it’s been 60 years.
The Defence ministry mentioned in a statement on Saturday that defence minister Rajnath Singh “has approved the policy on archiving, declassification and compilation/publication of war/operations histories by the ministry of defence” under which “each organisation under the ministry of defence such as Services, Integrated Defence Staff, Assam Rifles and Indian Coast Guard, will transfer the records, including war diaries, letters of proceedings & operational record books, etc., to the History Division” of the ministry for “proper upkeep, archival and writing the histories”.
"Timely publication of war histories would give people an accurate account of the events, provide authentic material for academic research and counter the unfounded rumours," the defence ministry added.
The requirement of having war histories written with a clear-cut policy on declassification of war records was recommended by Kargil Review Committee headed by K. Subrahmanyam as well as the N.N. Vohra Committee in order to analyse lessons learnt and prevent future mistakes. After the Kargil War, GoM recommendations on national security also mentioned the desirability of authoritative war history.
The new policy mandates the constitution of a committee headed by a joint secretary in the defence ministry that will comprise representatives of the Services, external affairs, home affairs and other organisations and prominent military historians (if required) for compilation of war and operations histories. The committee should be formed within two years of completion of a war or operations.
"The committee will consider, and take a view on earlier wars and operations," said a senior official on the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report.
"The compiled history on wars and operations (within 5 years) will be for internal consumption first, and later the committee may decide to publicly release whole or parts of it, considering sensitivity of the subject," he added.
The responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organisations as specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997. "According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years," the defence ministry said. It said records older than 25 years should be appraised by archival experts and transferred to the National Archives of India once the war and operations histories have been compiled.
The MoD’s History Division will be responsible for coordination with various departments while compiling, seeking approval and publishing of war and operations histories.