- The primary objective of the bill is to safeguard those blowing the whistle against corruption.
Here is the fifth of our fact sheet on key bills that lawmakers are likely to consider for approval.
Name: The Whistleblowers Protection Bill, 2011
Aim: The main objective of the bill is to safeguard those exposing corruption or malpractice by public servants.
The broader goal is to initiate public participation to help keep corruption in check.
Why it’s important: The bill, if approved, would serve as the country’s first law to protect whistleblower. In recent years, incidents of harassment, intimidation and violence have been reported by whistleblowers across the country. This has discouraged citizens from speaking out against wrongdoing in the public sector.
In 2003, a public servant was shot and killed after denouncing allegedly unlawful dealings in a national highways’ project. Earlier this year, a state official in Karnataka was murdered after he exposed irregularities in land allotment.
If implemented, the bill would create a legal framework to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption involving government officials. On top of that, the bill would empower the Central Vigilance Commission, an autonomous body appointed to check corruption, to guarantee police protection to whistleblowers if deemed necessary
Who it affects: Anyone who fears retaliation can seek protection under the bill. All government employees, except those serving in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, in the armed forces and in the Prime Minister’s Office, can be investigated on allegations of corruption under the bill.
What does it change? If approved, the bill would replace a 2004 resolution which empowers the CVC to receive, investigate and act on complaints filed by whistleblowers. The absence of a protection cause, however, discouraged several from acting against the government. Between 2005 to 2008, the CVC received only a few hundred complaints each year, government data indicates.
Lawmakers believe that a protection clause, as introduced under the Whistleblowers Bill, would encourage citizens to speak out against the bureaucracy.
Criticism: While the bill vows to act against those “victimizing” complainants, it doesn’t outline penalties or punishments for federal officials found guilty of doing so. Moreover, unlike in the U.S. or the U.K., India’s whistleblower bill fails to define key terms like victimization, allowing plenty of room for interpretation and subsequent misuse of the proposed law.
Another major loophole, say experts, is the inability to file complaints anonymously. Though the bill strongly recommends that the identity of the complainant be concealed, it permits the CVC, under certain circumstances, to disclose the complainants’ identity to the head of the government department under scrutiny. This, argue activists, would discourage citizens from filing complaints.
Some critics have also raised concerns over fines and punishments imposed on whistleblowers if their allegations are proven false. They argue such complaints could have been made in good faith but with poor information.
Several legal experts have also noted that the proposed law doesn’t hold the CVC accountable for delayed response to a complaint or for failing to act altogether.
What next? The bill, formerly called “The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill,” was approved by the Lok Sabha or lower house of Parliament in December last year, and is expected to be discussed in Rajya Sabha, the upper house, in the session that started Thursday.