It was conceptualised to protect whistleblowers but The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosure Bill makes it more dangerous for activists wanting to expose corruption in public offices.
One of the provisions of the bill, also known as the whistleblowers’ bill, has specified how a complainant can be jailed for up to two years and even fined up to Rs 30,000 if the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) feels the complaint is ‘malafide’ or ‘frivolous’.
Another provision empowers the CVC to reveal the complainant’s identity to the head of the department (HOD) of the officer against whom the complaint has been registered.
This means that a complaint made to the CVC against an officer will eventually be handed over to the officer’s HOD to investigate.
Activists are questioning the degree of fairness such an investigation will have.
Venkatesh Nayak, coordinator of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a New Delhi-based organisation working for awareness about the Right to Information, has criticised the bill.
“How will an activist feel secure when he knows that the CVC can reveal his identity if he wants to?” Nayak asked.
Activists have also slammed the bill’s definition of a ‘whistleblower’.
The bill says an activist will be considered a whistleblower only if he has complained to the CVC.
“So if you’ve been complaining to the errant officer’s department, or filing Right to Information applications to unearth proof or file a public interest litigation, you will not be covered under this act,” said activist Krishnaraj Rao.
“This is flaw because it’s at these stages that most activists are threatened.”
The bill does not encourage a public servant to complain against corrupt officers in the armed forces, paramilitary forces and the police and other investigating agencies.
“The government needs to explain why,” Rao added.
Nayak believes the bill would do more harm than good.
“The government has come up with such a flawed bill because it hasn’t bothered consulting activists, who are the stakeholders,” Nayak said.
The bill is available on the website of the central government's department of personnel and training and is open to suggestions and objections from the general public.