In an interview to Time magazine, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said that only "transparency in government leads to reduced corruption." We agree with Mr Assange wholeheartedly. To say that India is plagued with corruption would be an understatement; the rot has gone much, much deeper. Even if we keep the Commonwealth Games funds fiasco aside, we have the telecom spectrum and the mining scams to contend with. Plus, there are plenty more tucked away here and there. In such a scenario, the government’s decision to provide a shield to whistleblowers is a positive move. The Cabinet on Monday cleared the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosure Bill, 2010. Among other provisions, it aims to protect the identity of citizens who reveal information about the misuse of public authority and public money and empower the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to penalise those who reveal the identity of whistleblowers or threaten them. The first step towards protecting whistleblowers was taken in 2004 when the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions notified a resolution that empowered the CVC to act on the complaints of whistleblowers and protect them.
However, there are some issues that need to be ironed out if the government is really keen on making this law a powerful and effective one. For one, the power that will be given to the CVC — to issue summons — will not be enough if there are no penal provisions. We all know how summons work in this country — the entire operation is dependent on the police. The Bill, as the draft indicates now, will cover complaints against all central and state government employees as well as public sector employees. Here is the important question: what about the politicians? Will a law with these provisions be able to crack the nexus that exists between corrupt politicians and corrupt bureaucrats? Activists are also asking for re-energising the Lok Pal Bill, which has been pending in Parliament since 1969. They say that a public-appointed Lok Pal can set matters right. The other issue is that the CVC is not bound to act on every complaint. Is there a mechanism, a standard to decide which one is frivolous and which one is not?
As far as the security cover is concerned, as of now a person within the system and not an outsider (activists) will get it. In other words, a person like Satyendra Dubey, the National Highway Authority of India engineer who was killed in 2004, will get cover but not an Amit Jethwa, the Gujarat RTI activist who was killed recently. In our view, both should. The Bill has promise but if it is passed without trying to rectify its shortcomings, it will be that much less effective.