The Supreme Court on Wednesday told the Centre to put in place a statutory set-up within three months to protect whistleblowers from harassment or else it would review the existing executive mechanism, which activists claim is ineffective.
“Whistleblowers are a reality and a phenomenon. You can’t wish them away,” a bench headed by chief justice TS Thakur told attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, noting there was a vacuum in law to protect those who exposed corruption.
The bench also said if the government was unable to notify the whistleblower protection law -- passed by Parliament in 2014 -- within the next three months then it should take steps to improve the present administrative set-up.
Several whistleblowers have been killed in the country over the past few years while others have faced threats from people whom they had exposed, which activists blame on the absence of a legislation to safeguard them.
Though the attorney was non-committal, saying amendments to the law was pending before Parliament that witnessed disruptions even during the last winter session, he promised to revert within a week.
The bench fixed January 13 to hear the PIL filed by NGO Parivartan asking the court to frame guidelines for the safety of whistleblowers in the absence of a legislation.
The petitioner’s counsel Prashant Bhushan assailed the government’s move to amend the law under which a whistleblower’s complaint can only be entertained if the information he discloses can be procured under the Right to Information law.
If the revelations are in the exempted category of the transparency law, the informant can be prosecuted under the stringent provisions of the Official Secrets Act that is often slapped on those caught for suspected spying.
Bhushan said the changes would defeat the purpose behind the law. At this the court said the petitioner can move the court afresh challenging the new law.
Bhushan also complained of the inadequate safeguards in the existing administrative order by which the central vigilance commissioner has to conduct an inquiry into the complaint made by a whistleblower. He said the CVC wasn’t empowered enough to conduct the probe and was ultimately dependent on the chief vigilance officer of the same department to which the informant belonged.