Govt approves new policy on declassification and publication of war records and histories

1 month ago 29
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The MoD has so far formally released only the official history of the 1948 J&K operations. (Representative photo: PTI)

NEW DELHI: In a significant move that could lead to some official records of wars fought by the country eventually being made public, the defence ministry on Saturday approved a new policy on archiving, declassification, compilation and publication of military operations.
The new policy towards greater transparency, given the nod by defence minister Rajnath Singh, mandates that a committee led by a joint secretary -- with representatives from the armed forces, home and external affairs ministries as well as “prominent military historians if required” -- will be constituted within two years of a war or major operation.
“Thereafter, collection of records and compilation will be completed in three years and disseminated to all concerned. Timely publication of war histories would give people accurate account of the events, provide authentic material for academic research and counter unfounded rumours,” said a MoD official.
As for past wars and operations, which have often led to acrimonious debates, the committee will also take-up declassification of archival records on a case-to-case basis.
“The declassified records will be available mainly for internal use in the defence establishment in order to analyze lessons learnt and prevent future mistakes. But the committee will also take a view on what can be made available to the general public after redaction of operationally sensitive portions,” said the official.
Sources, however, said the official release of the highly-classified Henderson Brooks (HB) report into India’s humiliating military debacle against China under Nehru in 1962, is not on the cards as of now.
In the run-up to the 2014 general elections, BJP had demanded the HB report be made public after Australian journalist and author Neville Maxwell had uploaded a major portion of the report on the internet, which was extensively reported by TOI at that time.
But the BJP-led NDA government, on assuming office just a few months later, had made a U-turn to firmly rule out its release. The then defence and finance minister Arun Jaitley had told Parliament: “The HB report is a top-secret document and has not been declassified so far. Release of this report, fully or partially, would not be in the national interest.”
The MoD has so far formally released only the official history of the 1948 J&K operations. The official records of the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars, the 1987-1990 Operation Pawan of IPKF in Sri Lanka and the 1999 Kargil conflict have not been declassified till now.
The urgent 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.
The new policy says the Army, Navy, IAF, Integrated Defence Staff, Assam Rifles and Coast Guard will transfer their records (including war diaries, letters of proceedings and operational record books) to the History Division of MoD for proper upkeep, archival and writing the histories.
“The responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organizations as specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997, as amended from time to time,” said the MoD.
“According to the policy, records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years. 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,” it added.

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