Whistleblowers seeking protection can only reveal public information

  • Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 18, 2015 13:18 IST

An amendment to the Whistleblowers Act, 2011, cleared by the Lok Sabha last week will ensure that whistleblowers seeking protection can only disclose information that can be accessed under the right to information law.

The amendment — cleared by the Lok Sabha despite protests from the Opposition benches — will come up before the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon session.

The Whistleblowers Act was pushed through Parliament by the Congressled UPA gover nment in 2014. But the law was never brought into force by the Modi government that came to power soon after, insisting that it needed some changes to address concerns related to national security.

But the bill that was introduced, and hurriedly approved by Lok Sabha on Wednesday, goes far beyond protecting national security.

The Whistleblowers Act seeks to protect whistleblowers who report corruption, abuse of power or a crime to the government’s designated authority.

For most government servants, the Central Vigilance Commission is the designated authority to whom whistleblowers have to send their disclosures. Under the amendments, whistleblowers cannot seek protection under this law if this disclosure contains any information that cannot be accessed under the right to information law.

“If a person will be treated as a whistleblower if he only passes on information accessible under the RTI, he might as well file an RTI and send the response to the CVC,” said a government official.

The bill also removes the provision allowing a person to provide secret information to the designated authority irrespective of the restrictions in the Official Secrets Act as long as public interest is served.

In a single stroke, this restriction will not protect whistleblowers disclosing information related to big-ticket procurement, including defence purchases.

It will also not shield the Defence Research Development Organisation where a scientist — who blew the whistle on his superiors for allegedly wasting public money and got into trouble — had to move the Bombay high court.

The demand to enact a law to protect whistleblowers had gained momentum after a National Highways Authority of India engineer Satyendra Dubey was killed in 2003 after complaining of corruption. Anxious that it be seen to be acting on Dubey’s death, the Vajpayee government had created a mechanism for the Central Vigilance Commission to receive complaints from whistleblowers.

In June last year, the Modi government ordered that vigilance heads of each department also be allowed to receive complaints from whistleblowers.

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