Chandigarh, Sanjay Pahwa: The proposed “Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill” recently cleared by the ‘Union Cabinet’ is being criticised by the activists working on corruption issues. Calling it a cheating and a cheap trick by the politicians on the people of India, citizen groups have questioned the intent of the Government to keep the proposed legislation under the wraps and approving it without any public discussion or debate.
In a meeting conducted by civil society organisations, ‘Burning Brain Society,’ ‘Citizens Voice’ and ‘RTI Users Association’ on the issue, the activists said that most of the provisions in the proposed legislation come from the 2003 draft proposal of the legislation placed by the law commission which actually favours the bureaucrats and in a way create deterrence in exposing corruption, instead of facilitating whistle blowers. Moreover the NGO’s asserted that post 2005, even individuals who are using ‘Right to Information’ to expose corruption needs protection.
Lamenting the whistle-blowers bill, social activist Hemant Goswami said the proposed legislation has a provision wherein instead of rewarding, the whistle-blower can actually be punished. Mentioning about the provision, Hemant said that the provision reads that, “Any person who makes any disclosure which was false to his knowledge or reckless or malicious, shall 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.” Calling it as a draconic provision and questioned the intent of the Government Hemant said, “This can by no stretch of imagination be called a proactive step which will facilitate insiders to expose the corrupt as the senior officer decides what would be reckless or malicious. The proposed legislation also provides that even before any action is taken the person who has actually indulged in corruption, will get a copy of the complaint and the material sent by the whistle-blower. Now this is absolutely contrary to what is required in such legislation.”
The ‘Government of India’ through CVC in 2004 had adopted ‘Resolution on Public Interest Disclosures & Protection of Informer’ after the Manjunathan case to ensure that whistle-blowers are protected. However between 2004 and 2009 the number of whistle-blowers and people seeking protection declined drastically as the CVC failed to ensure effective action or protection of identity. CVC cited lack of staff as a reason for its failure to deal with the cases.
Hemant mentioned that though the CVC is said to be the nodal agency for the proposed legislation but it lacked not only the resources but also lawful power to deal with the cases. “The proposed legislation also puts a limitation period on expose about corruption, it states that the authority shall not deal with an issue if any disclosure is made after the expiry of one year from the date on which the action complained against becomes known to the complainant or five years from the date on which the action complained against is alleged to have taken place. How can the government put a limitation on expose of corruption as this is clearly against the limitation period defined in the Code of Criminal Procedure? Under the Cr.P.C. there is no limitation period for offences of corruption and criminal breach of trust by a public servant.”
Civil society groups also criticised the provisions in the proposed legislation which allow the authority to reject a disclosure simply by calling it frivolous, vexatious, misconceived, lacking in substance, trivial; or by stating that it has already been dealt with adequately.
“In the present shape this legislation will only help the corrupt and not the whistle-blowers. There is no reward mechanism for exposing corruption, there is no provision for effective protection and the proposed legislation only deals with the government employees. Such a legislation has to actually provision for protection to all category of people, whether inside or outside the government, and whether in private or public sector. Corruption exist everywhere and the whistle-blower in all kind of situation needs protection.” Hemant added.