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Empowering the upright

Finally, the Central government is framing an overarching law to protect whistle-blowers. However, more needs to be done.

     Print Edition: October 17, 2010

What's been proposed? The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Persons Making Disclosure Bill, 2010 promises to protect whistle-blowers who raise an alarm over fraud, corruption and mismanagement in government ministries, offices and agencies.

The draft Bill proposes to slap heavy penalties on those who reveal the identity of the whistleblowers. It could mean a jail term of up to three years and a fine of Rs 50,000. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) will be the nodal authority for handling complaints by whistleblowers and will have the powers of a civil court. The Bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet and has been tabled in Parliament. It is expected to be passed in the winter session, which begins in November.

Factbox

  • The new Bill gives power to all citizens to report wrongdoing in government bodies
  • Proposes to penalise people who disclose the identity of the whistle-blower
  • CVC is the nodal authority for handling complaints and reporting it to the CBI
  • The private sector and armed forces have been kept out of the ambit of the proposed law
What is different? India does not have any law to safeguard whistle-blowers right now. In 2004, the Supreme Court had stirred to action after the murder of National Highways Authority of India engineer Satyendra Dubey, who had exposed graft and corruption in highway projects. On the direction of Supreme Court, the CVC was designated the authority to handle all such complaints.

But even this was restricted to Central government employees. Also, the earlier resolution did not mandate any penalty for revealing the identity of the whistle-blower. Once the law is enacted, any person, including the NGOs, can make confidential disclosures and seek protection under this law.

What are the shortcomings? The Act does not apply to the private sector and the armed forces. Only corruption and unlawful loss to the government or unlawful gain to a public servant are covered. The Bill is silent on issues such as criminal offences, safety of individuals or community.

Then, experts think, that making CVC the nodal authority may not be the right option. CVC is seen as a toothless tiger without powers. Its primary job is to advise Central government agencies and it cannot register a criminal case or issue any directions to the investigating agencies.

-Manu Kaushik

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