Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Activists red-flag ‘dilution’ of law to shield whistle-blowers

Times of India: New Delhi: Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
A day before the Rajya Sabha takes up the Whistle Blowers' Protection (Amendment) Bill, activists urged MPs to refer it to a select committee for a clauseby-clause analysis, saying the legislation, in its present form, was diluted.
Anjali Bhardwaj, one of the signatories to the letter to Rajya Sabha members, said, "Referring the bill to a select committee will enable proper public consultation and debate. At present, the bill is going to the Rajya Sabha without going through any public debate." The Whistle Blowers' Protection (WBP) Act has not been operationalised so far, with no rules promulgated.
Activists have also raised questions over the amendments to the WBP Act, including the removal of safeguards like exemption from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), which is available to whistleblowers at present. "The basic purpose of the Act is to encourage people to report corruption, misuse of power and commission of a criminal offence. If whistle-blowers are prosecuted for disclosing information as part of their complaints, the very purpose of the law will be defeated," said human rights activist Venkatesh Nayak, also a signatory to the letter. Asmita Basu of Amnesty International India said: "Whistle-blowers are human rights defenders whose work contributes to upholding the rule of law and constitutional values. They should be protected, not prosecuted."
Several other parts of the bill are worrisome, say activists. For instance, the bill allows whistle-blowers to disclose some kinds of information only if it has been obtained through an RTI query.
This includes information pertaining to intellectual property and trade secrets, and which can be considered the "unwanted invasion of the privacy" of an individual. Under the bill, whistleblowers would be entitled to official protection only if all conditions are met, and the central and state governments would be the final authorities to judge each case.
The RTI Act, said Bhardwaj, already makes a lot of information inaccessible on various grounds. By making it imperative for whistleblowers to prove they have obtained information through RTI, the bill leaves very little room for exposing corruption in the system.