With the approval of the policy on declassification of war and armed operations histories, the government has delivered on a major reform which was first mooted by the Kargil Review Committee two decades ago. According to the new policy, war records should ordinarily be declassified in 25 years, however, the government will continue to have discretionary powers over withholding any such records it finds sensitive.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) in a statement on 12 June said 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 and operational record books, etc., to the History Division (of the Ministry) for proper upkeep, archival and writing the histories”.
It further informs 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”. 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 and operations histories have been compiled.
The 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)”.
War histories will be officially recorded within five years and will be handed over to the National Archives. The MoD sources said that compiled history on wars will be for internal consumption first and later the committee may decide to publicly release whole or part of it, considering the sensitivity of the subject.
The policy also sets clear timelines concerning the compilation and publication of war histories. The above-mentioned Committee should be formed within two years of completion of war/operations. Thereafter, the collection of records and compilation should be completed in three years and disseminated to all concerned.
“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 NN Vohra Committee to analyse lessons learnt and prevent future mistakes,” the statement mentioned, and added that the recommendation by the Group of Ministers (GoM) on national security after Kargil “also mentioned the desirability of authoritative war history”.
The MoD stated that the timely publication of war histories will give people an “accurate account of the events, provide authentic material for academic research and counter the unfounded rumours”.
There is a lot of interest among the general public and the armed forces to know the histories of wars and armed operations India has carried out in the past such as the Henderson Brooks & Brig PS Bhagat report on the 1962 war with China, which is still classified. Even today, there is no clarity about whether these reports will ever see the light of the day.