The Defence Ministry has brought in 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.
However, the government will continue to have discretionary powers over withholding any such records it finds sensitive.
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”.
It said that the “responsibility for declassification of records rests with the respective organisations as specified in the Public Record Act 1993 and Public Record Rules 1997, as amended from time to time”.
Further, the statement said that according to the new policy “records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years” and “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”.
Sources, however, said that it does not mean that reports such as the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, an operational review of the 1962 war with China, which is still classified, will automatically be made public. The government can still decide what to share with the National Archives even after the 25-year period.
The Defence Ministry’s statement also mentioned that its History Division will be responsible for coordination with various departments to compile and seek approval and publish the war/operations histories. The compilation will be done by a committee headed by a Joint Secretary in the Defence Ministry and will also include representatives of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, the External Affairs Ministry, Home Ministry and “other organisations and prominent military historians (if required)”.
The policy has laid down timelines to be followed to compile all such records. The committee will have to be formed “within two years of completion of war/operations” and after that “collection of records and compilation should be completed in three years and disseminated to all concerned”. Sources mentioned that till now the official records of each operation or war were not available at one central location, which this policy will remedy, by going through all relevant documents.
“The requirement of having war histories written with clear cut policy on declassification of war records was recommended by Kargil Review Committee headed by K Subrahmanyam as well as NN Vohra Committee in order to analyse lessons learnt and prevent future mistakes,” the statement mentioned, and added that the recommendation by the Group of Ministers on national security after Kargil “also mentioned the desirability of authoritative war history”.
The ministry stated that the timely publication of war histories will give people “accurate account of the events, provide authentic material for academic research and counter the unfounded rumours”.