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Whistleblower’s Protection Act , 2014 Will Help In Curbing Corruption

Let me begin by saying that honest people are now fast becoming a very rare breed and most people prefer to opt for the easy path of making quick money and remaining in the good books of powerful , corrupt , senior and clout wielding officials who in turn enjoy blessings of many prominent businessman and power wielding politicians holding key positions in either the State government or the Central government ! Needless to state , a whistleblower is one who always is the first to blow the whistle of any corruption scandal that comes to their knowledge and is most susceptible of being harmed by those corrupt people whose vested interests are adversely affected by such disclosure . They have to be protected at any cost and under any circumstances from victimisation and from being killed ! If they are not protected , a very wrong message will go out and even honest people will keep quiet in fear of losing their life and this certainly can never be good or beneficial to our national interests in any way !
It goes without saying that  it is for protecting such rare honest breed of people that Centre ultimately had no option but to relent under unremitting pressure to pass ‘The Whistle Blower Protection Act , 2014’ . The very object of this Act is to establish a mechanism to receive complaints relating to disclosure on any allegation of corruption or willful misuse of power or willful misuse of discretion against any public servant and to inquire or cause an inquiry into such disclosure and to provide adequate safeguards against victimisation of the person making such complaint and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto . It is widely perceived and very rightly so that if this Act is implemented honestly in letter and spirit , corruption will be checked to a great extent and more honest people will come forward in blowing the whistle off any corruption scam that comes to their knowledge without any fear of being harassed or killed !
Needless to say, we all know as to how from time to time honest officials and honest people have been brutally murdered whenever they tried to check the massive corruption which came to their knowledge because their identity was always disclosed and this is what necessitated the passing of this Act . According to National Campaign for People’s Right to Information ( NCPRI ) , the group that’s been lobbying for the smooth passage of the ‘Whistleblowers Protection Bill ( 2011 ) , over 40 whistleblowers have been murdered since 2008 and there are countless individuals who have been threatened , beaten and victimised ! Nikhil Dey who is co-convener of NCPRI laments that , “Unlike soldiers who get paid for putting their lives on the line for their country , the ordinary man who files Right to Information applications and exposes corruption is paid nothing . Instead , he pays for his honesty with his life , while his family gets no justice , no compensation and little by way of recognition .”
While craving my readers indulgence , let me disclose here that the Veerappa Moily Commission on Administrative Reforms II had recommended the system of whistleblowers . The Law Commission of India in its 179th report in 2001 had favoured a whistleblowers law which was termed ‘Public Interest Disclosure ( Protection ) Act . In April 2004 , the Supreme Court directed the Centre into issuing an office order , the Public Interest Disclosures and Protection of Informers Resolution , 2004 , designating CVC as the nodal agency to handle any complaints on corruption . Protection Bill was introduced on August 26 , 2010 . It was referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on September 16 , 2010 , which had given its report on June 9 , 2011 . The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha on December 11 , 2011 and by Rajya Sabha on February 21 , 2014 . It received the assent of the President on May 9 , 2014 and was published in the Gazette of India on May 12 , 2014 .
This new Act stipulates a well defined mechanism by which people can record all their complaints of wrongdoing and corruption going on unhindered in government offices without being subjected to expose their identity . Section 5 of the Act enjoins the competent authority to conceal the identity of the complainant unless the complainant himself has revealed his identity to any other office or authority while making public interest disclosure or in his complaint or otherwise . Most importantly , this new Act gives prime recognition to the fact that even a common man and not just bureaucrats or public officials alone can also be whistleblowers which has to be accorded unstinted appreciation and support ! Anjali Bhardwaj who is co-convener of NCPRI rightly says that , “Every citizen using the RTI Act is a potential whistleblower .”
It is a welcome sign to note that the families of the whistleblowers victims who lost their lives say that though they have lost everything and it is a tad too late for them and even though the Act has some loopholes but still those people who come forward in exposing corruption won’t be susceptible as was the case earlier ! Just like Section 5 enjoins the competent authority to conceal to conceal the identity of the complainant unless he himself discloses similarly Section 11 provides safeguards against victimisation . Section 11 enjoins the Central Government to ensure that no person or a public servant who has made a disclosure under this Act is victimised by initiation of any proceedings or otherwise merely on the ground that such person or a public servant had made a disclosure or rendered assistance in inquiry under this Act . It also provides that if any person is victimised or likely to be victimised on the ground that he had filed a complaint or made disclosure or rendered assistance in inquiry under this Act , he may file an application before the competent authority seeking redress in the matter and such authority shall take such action and give suitable directions to the concerned public servant or public authority , as the case may be , to protect such person from being victimized or avoid his victimisation . Further ,  such direction shall be binding upon the public servant or public authority and any person who wilfully does not comply with the direction of the competent authority shall be liable to a penalty which may extend up to thirty thousand rupees .
There can be no gainsaying the inevitable fact that if this Act had been enacted earlier , many honest individuals like Satyendra Dubey who was an Indian Engineering Service officer who was posted as project director in the National Highways Authority of India at Koderma , Jharkhand and had exposed financial irregularities in the project and who was brutally murdered on November 27 , 2003 would have been alive today and their identity would have remained secret and not disclosed openly to the contractors he had named ! In his letter , Dubey had specifically requested that his identity be kept secret as he feared for his life . But in absence of any law , the letter was circulated in the ministry and eventually found its way to those contractors he had named ! Satyendra’s younger brother Dhananjay Dubey rightly lamented that , “Eventually , the inevitable happened . When hundreds of crores are involved , a human life in India becomes very cheap in comparison . The government needs to act promptly on whistleblowers’ complaints . My brother went unheard until he was murdered .”
Similarly Shehla Masood was shot dead on August 16 , 2011 with a country pistol outside her home as she had raised her voice against official connivance in tiger poaching in Madhya Pradesh and had questioned the motives of government officials and park and reserve staff about suspicious deaths of several tigers under their protection . The list is endless ! In 2011 , another activist Niyamat Ansari who had exposed a Rs 2.5 lakh scam in the functioning of MNREGA in Latehar district in Jharkhand due to which an FIR was lodged against the former block development officer and a panchayat sewak and as a retaliatory step he was beaten and left to die ! Also , in 2012 , Sanjay Sahni who is a Delhi based electrician and his lawyer friend Ram Kumar Thakur came across a scam pertaining to payment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ( MGNREGA ) in Muzaffarpur , Bihar . They filed RTI  and Sahni says that , “We found that the muster rolls were false – we recognised names of people on the muster rolls who’d never got a day’s work through MGNREGA schemes .” On March 23 , 2013 , Thakur and his nephew were cycling back from the court but all of a sudden six men surrounded them and shot them dead ! The chief accused in his murder case is still sarpanch of the village but the police has not acted against him nor arrested him ! The list of such similar cases is quite a long one!
It is laudable to note that while on the one hand , Section 12 stipulates for the protection of witnesses and other persons , on the other hand Section 13 envisages for protection of identity of complainant ! Section 16 further provides that , “Any person , who negligently or mala fidely reveals the identity of a complainant shall , without prejudice to the other provisions of this Act , be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years and also to fine which may extend up to fifty thousand rupees .” Also , Section 15 makes accountable the organisation or official concerned and if they without any reasonable cause don’t furnish the report within the specified time or mala fidely refuse to submit the report , they shall be liable to pay a penalty which may extend to two hundred fifty rupees for each day till report is furnished but total amount of such penalty shall not exceed fifty thousand rupees . Also , if they knowingly give incomplete , incorrect or mislead or false report or destroyed record or information which was the subject of the disclosure or obstructed in any manner the furnishing of the report , they shall be liable to pay a penalty which may extend to fifty thousand rupees . But a proviso has also been added to Section 15 which provides that no penalty shall be imposed against any person unless he has been given an opportunity of being heard .
It must be stated here that though there is no doubt that it is a landmark law which will have widespread ramifications but as in any other case , it too has certain loopholes . Like for example , it states that the competent authorities for whistleblower complaints are the central and state vigilance commissions . I feel that they alone won’t be able to handle the huge quantum of work . The Government instead should have opted for making all bodies where people file their complaints , like the Central Information Commission and Human Rights Commission , competent authorities to deal with whistleblowers as this will most certainly allow complaints to be heard effectively and offer redressal in time ! What I find more disturbing is that this new law does not offer any redressal at all in the form of reopening cases or compensation for earlier victims which is most unfortunate !
Let me point out here that by the amendments made recently , the definition of “disclosure” amended to include willful misuse of power or discretion , which leads to a demonstrable loss to the government or a demonstrable gain to a public servant or any third party . Also , a wider definition of “competent authority” has been adopted to which a complaint can be made . This is good but what we must not miss out is that UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime found the country does not comply with four of the several clauses on corporate graft which includes the protection of reporting persons , victims , witnesses and experts and is only partially compliant !
This Act says that every disclosure shall be made in good faith and the person making the disclosure shall provide a personal declaration stating that he reasonably believes that the information disclosed by him and the allegation contained therein is substantially true . It is also welcome to note that to check frivolous and false complaints , appropriate provisions have been inserted in the Act . Section 17 lays down that , “Any person who makes any disclosure mala fidely and knowingly that it was incorrect or false or misleading shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to two years and also to fine which may extend up to thirty thousand rupees .” Section 18 further makes the Head of Department of Government liable who shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly unless he proves that it was committed without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence .
Section 8 broadly speaks about certain matters which have been exempted from disclosure like such question or document or information which if furnished is likely to prejudicially affect the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India , the security of the state , friendly relation with foreign State , public order , decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court , defamation or incitement to an offence as might involve the disclosure of proceedings of the Cabinet of the Union or State Government or any Committee of that Cabinet . The Act is not applicable to the armed forces and the Special Protection Group mandated to provide security to the Prime Minister  and former Prime Ministers among others .
All said and done , it is widely hoped and perceived that this new Act will not only protect honest people and officials but also go a long way in exposing corrupt people and thus keeping a crucial check on them as they can no longer take things for a ride . The new law states that the complaints can be filed by individuals as well as organisations . I welcome this because it takes the single individual out of the limelight and any one is free to bring their case through organisations instead of themselves being in the forefront ! Needless to add , this Act has certainly acted as a strong bulwark against corruption and now it is the corrupt people and not honest people as most unfortunately was the case earlier who have to spend sleepless nights because anyone can complaint against them and as if this was not enough they cannot find out as to who complained against them as this new Act protects the identity of whistleblowers from being disclosed in any manner to anyone ! Yet it must be reviewed like any other law from time to time so that it stays update and serves its key objective of combating, checking and crushing corruption!

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