IAS Gyan

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Private Papers of public figures


Private Papers of public figures

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  • The Prime Ministers’ Museum & Library (PMML) has decided that it will not permit future donors of Private Papers of eminent personalities to impose indefinite conditions on the declassification of such material.

Private files

Definition and Ownership

  • Private Papers refer to personal collections of eminent personalities like Nehru, Gandhi, and others, including their correspondence, diaries, and other personal documents.
  • These papers are usually owned by the family or private donors and not by the government.

Transfer and Custody:

  • Institutions like the Prime Ministers’ Museum & Library (PMML) acquire these papers through donations or purchases.
  • PMML holds significant collections, including Nehru's papers donated by his family, covering periods before and after Independence.

Access and Conditions:

  • Donors sometimes impose conditions on the declassification and public access of these papers.
  • For instance, Sonia Gandhi reclaimed some of Nehru’s papers in 2008 and restricted public access to certain documents.

Government Rules:

  • The PMML, under the Ministry of Culture, has guidelines on declassification. Generally, there’s a five-year ban on newspapers, extendable up to ten years in exceptional cases.
  • PMML has begun declassifying papers after decades of custody, including those of Nehru and other prominent figures.

Public Record

●The Public Records Act of 1993 regulates the management, preservation, and access to public records in India.

●The Act applies to the central government, state government departments, public sector undertakings, statutory bodies and corporations, and commissions and committees.

●It defines what constitutes a public record, who is responsible for managing them, and how they should be preserved and disposed of. The Act also establishes the National Archives of India as the custodian of public records and provides for the transfer of certain records to the National Archive.

Definition of Public Records: Any Document, manuscripts, files, microfilms, microfiche, facsimile copy of a document, reproduction of images embodied in such microfilms, any other material produced by a computer or by any other device created by any records creating agency.

Records Creating Agency:

●Any ministry, department or office of Central Government; Offices of any, body wholly or substantially controlled or financed by Central Government; department or office of UT Administration.

●Every records creating agency shall nominate one of its officers as records officer to discharge the functions under this act.

Power of Central Government:

The Central Government shall have power to coordinate, regulate and supervise the operations connected with administration, management, preservation, selection, disposal and retirement of public records under this Act.

●Director General of Archives to be appointed by Central Government.

●Head of Archives means a person holdiing the charge of Archives of UT.

Powers of Director General or head of Archives

Central Government for public records relating to organisations of central government and UT Administration for public records relating to organisations of UT, may by order authorise Director General or head of Archives to carry out the following functions:

●Supervision, management and control of Archives.

●Acceptance for deposit of public records of permanent nature after such period

●Custody, use and withdrawal of public records.

●Arrangement, preservation and exhibition of public records.

●Preparation of inventories, indices, catalogues and other reference media of public records, etc.

Receipt of records from private sources: National Archives of India or Archives of UT may accept any record of historical or national importance from any private source by way of gift or purchase etc.

Access to Public Records:

●All unclassified public records which are more than 30 years old and transferred to National Archives of India or Archives of UT can be made available to any bona fide research scholar, such as exceptions or restrictions.

●Any records creating agency may grant to any person access to any public record in its custody, in a manner as may be prescribed.

Archival Advisory Board: Central Government to constitute an Archival Advisory Board to be headed by Secretary of Union Ministry of Culture.

The Archival Advisory Board shall perform the following functions:

●Advise Central Government and UT Administration on matters concerning administration, management, conservation and use of public records.

●Lay down guidelines for training of archivists.

●Give directions for acquisition of records from private custody.

●Deal with such matters as may be prescribed.

Government rules for Official Records:

●Official records held by government departments have stricter declassification rules under the Public Records Rules, 1997, usually set at 25 years.

●Private Papers are not governed by these rules but are subject to donor agreements.

Issues in governing private files:

  • In countries like the US, public and private records are managed under strict archival rules for declassification, unlike India where private papers have more flexible access norms.
  • These papers are crucial for historical research and understanding the lives of India’s leaders. Controversies arise over access restrictions imposed by donors, impacting scholarly access and transparency.


  • While Private Papers offer invaluable insights into India’s history, their access is often subject to donor conditions, contrasting with stricter rules governing government records. Balancing historical preservation with public access is need of the hour.




Q) Which of the following is NOT covered under the Public Records Act of 1993 in India?

  1. Public sector undertakings
  2. Non-governmental organizations
  3. Statutory bodies and corporations
  4. Commissions and committees


  1. 2 and 3 only
  2. 2 and 4 only
  3. 3 and 4 only
  4. 1 and 2 only

Answer: D


The Public Records Act of 1993 in India regulates the management, preservation, and access to public records. It applies to:

  1. Central government departments
  2. State government departments
  3. Public sector undertakings
  4. Statutory bodies and corporations
  5. Commissions and committees