The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) said that there has been no progress on anti-corruption legislations and even existing legislations and mechanisms are being undermined, as it assessed the performance of the Narendra Modi government which completes two years on May 26.
NCPRI co-convenors Anjali Bhardwaj and Nikhil Dey along with Dhananjay Dubey and Sanjay Sahni called for immediate operationalistation of the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBP Act) & the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (LL Act) at a press meet in New Delhi.
Dhananjay Dubey is the brother of slain whistleblower Satyendra Dubey who was killed in 2002 for exposing corruption in the NHAI project and Sanjay Sahni is a colleague of Ram Kumar Thakur who was shot dead in Muzzafarpur in March 2013 for exposing corruption in NREGA.
Anjali Bhardwaj said that even though the government came to power on the plank of anti-corruption and good governance, it has failed to live up to any of its promises and commitments on the issue – the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBP Act) & the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (LL Act) – both of which were passed by parliament and received the assent of the president more than two years ago, but have not been operationalised till date.
Dhananjay Dubey said that despite assurances from senior BJP leaders including Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad that they were committed to the WBP Act, the government had taken no steps to prevent deaths of whistleblowers. Close to 60 people have been killed in the last few years for exposing corruption and wrongdoing in the government. Sanjay Sahni said that lives of whistleblowers like his colleague Ram Kumar Thakur could have been saved if the WBP Act was operationalised. Ram Kumar Thakur had written to the police and the state government seeking protection, however no action was taken.
Activists said that instead of operationalising the WBP Act, the government has moved an amendment bill in parliament which seeks to severely dilute the Act. The amendments seek to remove safeguards available to whistleblowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act and also introduce wide-ranging exclusions by stating that disclosures should not contain information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state.
The current status of the WBP amendment bill is not clear. The debate on the bill in the Rajya Sabha and the proposal to refer it to a select committee was not concluded, however, on April 28, 2016 the minister concerned, in reply to a question in parliament, stated that the amendment bill had been sent to a committee.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (LL Act) was notified in the gazette in January 2014. The Lokpal & Lokayuktas Act has not been operationalised despite the passage of more than two years since the Act was notified. An amendment was required to ensure that in the absence of a recognised leader of opposition, the leader of the single largest party in opposition is included in the selection panel for appointing the Lokpal. Instead of moving the single amendment and quickly operationalising the Act, the government has moved several amendments to the Act. The amendment bill called the “the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014”, was deliberated upon by the department related standing committee on personnel, public grievances, law and justice which presented its report in December 2015. The amendment bill is currently pending before the Lok Sabha.
Among other issues, the amendments seek to dilute the Lokpal Act by exempting bureaucrats from declaring assets and liabilities of their spouses and dependent children.
Nikhil Dey of the NCPRI said that despite public disclosure of asset declarations of lakhs of candidates contesting elections across the country and of judges of the SC and HCs, no evidence of threats/blackmail had come to light and therefore, there is no rationale for this amendment. The proposed amendments to the PCA, require the prior approval of the Lokpal to investigate cases of corruption related to decisions or recommendations made. In the context of the Lokpal not being set up and operationalised, it is unclear, how these provisions will take effect, he said.
On the grievance redressal (GR) bill, the BJP government had repeatedly stated that it was committed to re-introducing and passing the GR bill which had lapsed with the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha. In fact, in a communication dated June 24, 2014, the PMO stated that passing the GR bill was “part of immediate thrust areas of the government”. The minister concerned had reiterated in parliament in December 2014, February 2015 and May 2015, that the government was “committed to bringing in a legislation for ensuring effective redressal of grievances of citizens related to non-delivery of entitled goods and services by the government”. However, in March 2016, in response to a question in parliament, the government made no reference to the legislation and instead stated that it was preparing a scheme known as Delivery of Services and Grievances Redressal Scheme – 2015.
Anjali Bhardwaj said that from these statements, it appeared that the government is reneging on its commitment to bring in a statutory framework for time-bound and effective redressal of grievances.