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  Opinion   Columnists  15 May 2024  Dilip Cherian | MHA plans major overhaul of OSA, other archaic laws

Dilip Cherian | MHA plans major overhaul of OSA, other archaic laws

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Published : May 16, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : May 16, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Home Ministry seeks input to modernize pre-Independence laws, Official Secrets Act and Explosive Substances Act, amid electoral backdrop

The MHA aims to combine two Acts concerning explosive substances, currently overseen separately by the MHA and the department for promotion of industry and internal trade. (Representational Image: DC)
 The MHA aims to combine two Acts concerning explosive substances, currently overseen separately by the MHA and the department for promotion of industry and internal trade. (Representational Image: DC)

Perhaps stung by all the criticism of the changes to the current laws, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) is actively seeking input from the directors-general of police across all states and Union Territories on a proposal to modernise and streamline over a dozen pre-Independence laws. This significant move is notably timed alongside the Lok Sabha elections and aims to update antiquated laws such as the Registration of Foreigners Act, Official Secrets Act, and Explosive Substances Act, among others.

In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi directed Union government secretaries to prepare reform plans for the initial 100 days of the new government, spurring this effort. According to sources, one major proposal is to merge the Registration of Foreigners Act, Passport Act and Foreigners Act into a single law, provisionally titled the Immigrants and Foreigners Bill. Discussions on this possible consolidation have already taken place with the law ministry.

Updating the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to keep pace with technological advancements is also under consideration. The OSA, which deals with espionage and unauthorised handling of sensitive information, has a draft bill prepared with inputs from key intelligence and defence agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, and the defence ministry, among others.

Moreover, the MHA aims to combine two Acts concerning explosive substances, currently overseen separately by the MHA and the department for promotion of industry and internal trade. The ministry has also sought feedback on updating laws within state jurisdictions, including a new Police Act, based on the MHA’s Model Police Act of 2006, which has already influenced legislation in at least 15 states.

The exit of a go-to babu

It went down to the wire, with babus in a quandary until the last moment, whether to throw a farewell party or quietly bid goodbye to a colleague. Finally, the uncertainty over the completion of the Central deputation tenure of Sunil Kumar, senior joint secretary at the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, ended with the issue of a final relieving order.

Despite efforts by the ministry to prolong his tenure, Mr Kumar was relieved of his duties, and granted earned leave until July. Initially proposed for a two-year extension, the ministry’s offer of a shorter extension was rebuffed by the department of personnel and training (DoPT).

Sources have informed DKB that Mr Kumar had quite a fan club in the ministry, thanks to his simplicity and down-to-earth vibe. What made him so special to his peers and colleagues was that he had become the go-to babu for all things upstream, downstream and everything in between. He looked after upstream exploration and production matters, petrochemicals, import and export of crude oil and petroleum products, ethanol blending programme and other biofuels, green hydrogen and renewable energy, etc. That’s a lot to deal with, for any babu. But even the most dedicated and popular babu is not irreplaceable, and so Mr Kumar had to finally exit.

IAS privileges vs medical ethics, Kerala clash under scanner

Tensions are high in Kerala’s babu circles. A recent incident has shed light on the tricky balance between administrative authority and medical ethics.

The IAS Association has called on chief secretary Dr V. Venu to address the recent doctors’ protest triggered by Thiruvananthapuram district collector Geromick Georges. The 2015-batch IAS officer caused an uproar when he summoned a doctor from a busy outpatient surgery to treat his nail infection at home.

Sources have informed DKB that the doctor reportedly ended up waiting an hour at the collector’s residence before finally treating and clearing the infection before returning to the hospital. The entire situation set off a wave of anger among the doctors, raising serious questions about the abuse of administrative privileges.

The IAS Association, however, defended the collector, citing the civil service rules, which allow doctors to visit civil servants at home for medical exams, with the timing decided by the medical officer and the costs reimbursed. The babus have also slammed the breach of medical ethics in making the collector’s health condition public.

On the flipside, the state medical officers association reported that the health secretary had spoken with the collector to ensure this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.

But as the controversy builds up, chief secretary Venu has stated that he will review a detailed report submitted by the health secretary before deciding on the matter.

Tags: ministry of home affairs (mha), 2024 lok sabha elections, official secrets act