By Counterview Desk
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Delhi-based advocacy group, has insisted that one of the first steps that the new Government of India must take is to build confidence among the whistle blowers, a much-threatened community, by implementing the Whistle Blowers’ Protection (WBP) Act, 2011. The law provides for an institutionalised mechanism to protect, and thus encourage, those who disclose information on corrupt practices or abuse of power by government officials, using the right to information (RTI). The Act passed in Lok Sabha in 2011, and after a lapse of two years, it was passed in the Rajya Sabha in February 2014, ahead of announcement of the Lok Sabha polls. President Pranab Mukherjee gave assent to it on May 14.
CHRI data, reported up to December 2013, show that Maharashtra and Gujarat have see maximum attacks on RTI activists. Maharashtra has seen 53 attacks on RTI activists, including nine cases of murder, over the last eight years, while Gujarat comes second with 34 attacks, including three murders. Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka follow with over 10 reported attacks on RTI activists. In all, there were 251 cases in India where people were attacked, murdered, physically or mentally harassed or had their property damaged because of the information they sought under RTI. The data throw up 32 alleged murders and two suicides that were directly linked with RTI applications filed.
Strongly advocating implementation of WBP Act Venkatesh Nayak, programme coordinator, access to information programme, CHRI, has said through a communiqué: “Now that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government will be sworn in any day this week and they have promised accountability as a key measure of governance, civil society should monitor their actions to protect whistleblowers starting with Dr Ashok Khemka and all others in civil service who have exposed wrongdoing.” A senior IAS officer in Haryana and known for honest duty, he cancelled the mutation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law’ Robert Vadra’s “illegal” land deal in Gurgaon. Two chargesheets were filed against Khemka, one of which accuses of “failing” his responsibilities at the Haryana Seed Development Corporation, where Khemka found corruption and requested for CBI inquiry.
“Many RTI users, activists, mediapersons and community-level workers for social justice and accountability have been blowing the whistle on wrongdoing and facing the ire of vested interests. The new government will have to act on its promises of ensuring accountability for wrong doing in government and protect those who expose such wrong doing”, Nayak says, adding, “The Supreme Court recognised whistleblowing to the media as a legitimate method of drawing the attention of the authorities and the people to any wrongdoing, when all other options have not worked in the matter of Indirect Tax Practitioners Association vs R K Jain AIR 2011 SC 2234.”
Calling it “an added weapon to the whistleblower’s arsenal”, CHRI says, “Despite notification in the gazette, the WBP Act has not come into force yet. The Government of India has the discretion to notify the operationalisation of different provisions of this law on different dates. The new government has the task of drafting the rules for implementing this law on the following specific matters relating to whistleblower protection:
(a) the procedure for disclosure by writing or appropriate electronic means under sub-section (4) of section 4;
(b) the manner in which and the time within which the discreet inquiry shall be made by the Competent Authority under sub-section (2) of section 5;
(c) the additional matter in respect of which the Competent Authority may exercise the powers of a Civil Court under clause (f) of sub-section (2) of section 7;
(d) the form of annual report under sub-section (1) of section 23; and
(e) any other matter which is required to be, or may be, prescribed.”
CHRI further says, “The state governments, which will also implement this law, have general powers to make Rules for implementing this law within their jurisdiction. No specifics have been mentioned though as in the context of the rule-making power of the Government of India. This speaks volumes about how hurriedly this Bill was passed on the last day of the last session of Parliament even though it was pending in Parliament for three years.” The advocacy group recalls that The BJP (primary constituent of the NDA) has made an electoral promise to make governance participatory. One of the promises reads: “We will actively involve people in policy formulation and evaluation through various platforms.”
“So the new government must make the rules to the WBP Act in a participatory manner if it is to live up to its promise. The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) under the Union Ministry of Personnel is the nodal department for implementing this law and might take the lead to draft the Rules. The Central Vigilance Commission may also be involved in this process as it is a competent authority for receiving WB complaints against most authorities in Government of India except ministers and MPs. Once the new ministers are sworn in we will know who will be in charge of the DoPT. Till date the Ministry of Personnel was under the direct charge of the Prime Minister. It remains to be seen if the new Government will continue with this arrangement or alter it”, the CHRI says.
To download the Whiltle Blowers’ Protection Act, 2011, click HERE