Whistleblower bill is self-defeating

CVC, in present form, will do no good

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | August 27, 2010


Satyendra Dubey, a whistleblower who paid with his life
Satyendra Dubey, a whistleblower who paid with his life

Seven years in the making, the whistleblowers’ bill or the "Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010" was finally introduced in Lok Sabha on Thursday. [For the text of the bill see the attachment below.] But this long preparation has been a waste. There are several provisions that defeat the very purpose for which it is being legislated.

Some such provisions are as follows:

  • The bill provides complete immunity to the Armed Forces. No complaint can be entertained against any member of the Armed Forces or anything related to the Armed Forces, not even when they are involved with “maintenance of public order”.  (Clause 3)

This is nothing short of blasphemy, given the growing number of scams involving even generals and brigadiers in land deals, diversion of petrol, diesel and liquor, purchase of arms and ammunitions, uniforms and other equipments in recent years. Incidents of rape of women and killing of innocent civilians in the name of fighting militancy by the men in uniform in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast are not exactly rare. That is why a big debate is going on in the country about restricting powers given to the Armed Forces in troubled areas under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

There is no logic in giving immunity to the Armed Forces.

  • The bill provides that the identity of a complainant can be disclosed “if the Competent Authority is of the opinion that it has, for the purpose of seeking comments or explanation or report from them under sub-section (3) on the public disclosure, become necessary to reveal the identity of the public servant to the Head of the Department of the organization or authority, board or corporation concerned or office concerned, the Competent Authority may reveal the identity…..” (Clause 4)


This defeats the whole purpose of the proposed law. There is absolutely no need for the bill as this provision provides sufficient excuse to blow the cover of the whistleblower.

  • There is a ridiculous provision which says no complaint can be made “after the expiry of five years from the date on which the action complained against is alleged to have taken place”. (Clause 5)


This gives an opportunity to the competent authority (Central Vigilance Commission or State Vigilance Commissioner) to first enquire into the date of the commission of offence and then reject the complaint on technical grounds.

Why this time limit if the purpose is to fight corruption? Are we to understand that corruption committed five years ago is no more so?

  • Protection from harassment provided to the complainant is vague. Clause 10 (4) says that the CVC will have power to “direct the restoration of the public servant making the disclosure to the status quo ante”.

What if a public servant making a complaint is denied promotion or increments or other benefits, which is often the case? How will restoring the status quo ante will help?

  • The bill is silent on private sector.

Are we to understand that there is no corruption in private sector? Or that corruption in private sector is none of our business? But then what about the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects that the government is promoting in a big way, not only in infrastructure sector but also in social sector.

Having given the powers to receive public interest disclosures and protect those making them to the CVC (in case the complaint relates to central government or its corporations etc), the bill is silent on checks and balances on the CVC. What if CVC doesn’t do its job honestly or sincerely as several such charges have been made in the recent past? A month ago, former CJI Justice Lahoti wrote an open letter to prime minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi alleging that whistleblowers who went to the CVC “came to grief”. Nobody has paid any attention to him. That the CVC is lax is evident from the fact that it has not prepared its annual reports for the past two years, forget about placing them in parliament as this bill proposes to do. Why so much reliance on the CVC, which has become a parking lot for the retired bureaucrats?

Clearly, the bill needs to be reworked and the CVC needs to be fixed if we are to make an honest fight against corruption.

 

 

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