There is no progress on anti-corruption legislations; existing mechanisms are being undermined

corruptThe National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI,) in the following three notes, provides the status of three anti-corruption laws, which the Government of India had declared it is committed to implement in the name of transparency and accountability: 

I. NCPRI note on the Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015

The Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBP Act), which was passed by Parliament and received the assent of the President on May 9, 2014, has not been operationalised till date. Instead of promulgating rules to operationalise the law, the government has moved an amendment bill in Parliament which seeks to severely dilute the Act. The amendment bill was brought to Lok Sabha without any public debate on the contents of the bill. RTI requests seeking information on the nature of amendments were denied to citizens. The text of the amendment bill was only made public on May 11, 2015, once it was introduced in Lok Sabha. During the debate in the Lok Sabha, MPs from various parties including the Congress, CPI (M), BJD, Shiv Sena, AITC, TRS and NCP objected to the dilution of the law and many of them asked for the bill to be referred to a Standing Committee.

However, their request was ignored and the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 13, 2015. The bill was taken up for discussion and passage in Rajya Sabha on December 7, 2015. Several MPs moved amendments and demanded that the bill be referred to a select committee. However, the discussion could not be concluded due to paucity of time. The current status of the WBP Amendment Bill remains unclearwhereas the debate on the bill in the Rajya Sabha and the proposal to refer it to a select committee was not concluded, on April 28, 2016, the concerned Minister, in reply to a question in Parliament stated that the Amendment Bill had been sent to a committee.

The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015 dilutes the original Act in the following ways-

  1. Removing safeguard available to whistleblowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act- The amendment bill seeks to remove the clause which safeguards whistleblowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) if they make a disclosure under the WBP Act. The basic purpose of the WBP Act is to encourage people to come forward and report wrong-doing in the form of corruption, misuse of power and commission of a criminal offence. If whistleblowers are prosecuted for disclosing information as part of their complaint and are not granted immunity from the OSA, the very purpose of the law will be defeated. Offences under the OSA are punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years. Threat of such stringent penalties would deter even bonafide whistleblowers from coming forward.
  2. Introducing wide ranging exemptions- The amendment bill also states that no disclosures should contain information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State. Further, information which relates to commercial confidence, competitive position of a third party etc. also cannot form part of the disclosure made by a whistleblower, unless the information has been obtained under the RTI Act. If the competent authority receives a disclosure containing information of the nature mentioned above, then the disclosure will not be inquired into. The exemptions have been modelled on the exemptions provided under Section 8 of the RTI Act to ostensibly bring the WBP Act in line with the RTI Act. As the two laws have completely different goals- the RTI Act seeks to bring out information into the public domain while the WBP Act provides for disclosures to competent authorities within the government to enable inquiry into allegations of corruption and wrong-doing and provide protection to the whistleblower- it is misleading to adopt the exemptions from the RTI Act. Further, the amendment bill completely ignores the predicament of government servants who come across evidence of wrong-doing in the normal course of their working and do not need to file applications under the RTI Act to access information.

As the bill severely dilutes the provisions of the original Act and there has been no formal platform for public consultation/discussion on the amendments, it is critical that the amendment bill be referred to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha to enable detailed clause-by-clause deliberations and also provide a chance for citizens to present their views on it. In addition, the government must immediately promulgate rules to operationalise the existing Whistle Blowers Protection Act to provide protection to whistleblowers.

II. NCPRI note on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2014

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (LL Act) was notified in the gazette in January 2014. The Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act has not been operationalized despite the passage of more than two years since the Act was notified in the official gazette. An amendment was required to ensure that in the absence of a recognised leader of opposition, the leader of the single largest party in opposition is included in the selection panel for appointing the Lokpal. Instead of moving the single amendment and quickly operationalizing the Act, the government has moved several amendments to the Act.

The Amendment bill called the “the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014”, was deliberated upon by the Department related Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice which presented its report in December 2015. The amendment bill is currently pending before the Lok Sabha. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014 dilutes the original Act in the following ways-

  1. Diluting provisions related to asset disclosures by public servants- The amendment bill seeks to dilute the original scheme of asset disclosure under section 44 of the LL Act which was applicable to all categories of public servants covered under the Act. The amendment bill essentially exempts bureaucrats from disclosing details of independently created assets held by their spouse or children. The Lokpal has been established to receive and inquire into complaints related to offences punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (PCA). As one of the grounds of criminal misconduct under the PCA relates to a public servant or any person on his/her behalf, being in possession of pecuniary resources or property disproportionate to his known sources of income, it is critical that disclosure of assets and liabilities of public servants be of a high standard and be uniform across all categories of public servants covered under the LL Act. As illegally amassed assets could be handed over to family members, it is important that the declaration of assets include the details of assets of the spouse and dependent children of the public servant. The amendment bill also seeks to dilute the provision under Section 44(6) of the LL Act which requires the asset declarations to be made available on the website of the concerned competent authority. In India several categories of public officials or even those seeking to hold public office by contesting elections, are already subject to stringent norms requiring disclosure of assets owned by them, their spouse and dependent children. Such declarations are publicly available and therefore, no special exemption should be extended to any class or category of public officials
  2. No requirement of quorum in search committee and selection committee meetings- the amendment bill states that no appointment or proceedings of the Search Committee or Selection Committee shall be invalid merely by reason of any vacancy or absence of a Member in the meetings of the respective committees. Such a clause will be open to misuse, as technically, as per the provisions of the amendment bill, a recommendation can be made by the Search/ Selection Committee even if only one member is available and attends its meeting. In order to prevent abuse of the proposed amendment, a provision stipulating a quorum requirement for the purpose of validating a meeting in either Committee must be part of the bill.

III. NCPRI note on the Grievance Redress Bill

A legislation to provide redress of peoples’ everyday grievances was introduced in Parliament in December 2011. The bill called the ‘Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011’ provided a comprehensive grievance redress framework across the country to ensure the delivery of public services, social sector entitlements, and the accountability of delivery systems. It provided a decentralised, time-bound mechanism for receiving and redressing complaints of people. The bill was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which gave its report in August 2012. The bill could not be taken up for consideration and passage and lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.

The legislation is critical for empowering and enabling citizens to access their rights and entitlements. The Grievance Redress Bill was an ‘RTI – part 2’ as it followed the same, straightforward, decentralised and tested architecture of the RTI to enable citizens to ensure accountability in government functioning. The bill provided for grievance redress officers to be designated at every panchayat and ward level, who would be responsible for receiving and resolving complaints in a time-bound manner. If a complaint remained unresolved, the law provided an appeal mechanism and the appellate body was empowered to compensate the complainant and penalise the erring official. The bill required every public authority to develop a citizens’ charter enumerating all the services, goods and obligations of the public authority along with relevant timelines, norms and standards.

The bill must be immediately re-introduced in Parliament, debated and passed without any further delay

In December 2013 (during the debate on the Lokpal Bill), MPs from across party lines spoke out in support of the grievance redress bill. Shri Rahul Gandhi (INC), Shri Kapil Sibal (INC), Shri Arun Jaitley (BJP), Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP), Shri K. N. Balagopal, CPI(M), Shri Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M), Shri M. P. Achuthan, CPI and Shri Shivanand Tiwari, JD(U) spoke in support of this bill.

Position of the current BJP government on GR bill

From the statements of the government made in Parliament, it appears that the government is reneging from its commitment to bring in a statutory framework for time-bound and effective redress of grievances. In July 2014, the concerned Minister stated in Parliament- “Prime Minister’s Office, vide a communication dated 24.06.2014, informed the Department of Personnel & Training and the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances that the following are part of Immediate Thrust Areas of the Government:-

  • Passing of Citizens’ Grievances Bill;
  • Amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act.”

In December 2014, the concerned minister stated in Parliament- “The Government is committed to bringing in a legislation for ensuring effective redressal of grievances of citizens related to non-delivery of entitled goods and services by the Government. However, at this stage, no realistic time frame can be indicated for introduction of such a Bill in the Parliament.”

In February & May 2015, the Minister reiterated in Parliament- “The Government is committed to bringing in a legislation for ensuring effective redressal of grievances of citizens related to non-delivery of entitled goods and services by the Government. However, at this stage, no realistic time frame can be indicated for introduction of such a Bill in the Parliament.”

However in March 2016, the Minister stated in Parliament, “The Government is committed to ensuring efficient and timely delivery of public services, including timely and effective redressal of grievances of citizens related to nondelivery of entitled goods and services by the Government. For this purpose, a scheme known as Delivery of Services and Grievances Redressal Scheme – 2015 has been prepared. The ambit of the Scheme inter-alia includes goods and services being offered by the public authorities of the Government of India (with some exceptions). The Scheme also has provisions for administrative action with respect to delays, etc. in provision of designated services in specified timeframe.”

Therefore, a comparison of the statements above show that the government instead of bringing in a statutory framework of grievance redress, which was identified by the PM as “Immediate Thrust Areas of the Government” is now replacing the proposal with a scheme. No details of the above-mentioned scheme are available in the public domain.

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