Monday, May 11, 2015

"Atrocious" provision in new whistleblowers amendment Bill: Officials Secrets Act to be invoked on seeking information

By Our Representative
Senior activists have taken strong exception to the Government of India proposal to amend the #Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014 (WBP Act), introduced as an amendment bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday. Right to information (RTI) activist Venkatesh Nayak has said, while till now the government refused to implement the law, which aims to create a statutory mechanism for whistleblowing about corruption, abuse or misuse of power or authority, in a fresh move, it is coming up with several "unreasonable restrictions on whistleblowing."
Chatacterising it as the #NDA government's yet another move to "outdo everything that the previous #UPA government did between 2004 and 2014", Nayak says, the Centre is seeking to dilute Section 4(1), which is a "substantive provision that permits whistleblowing about wrongdoing in a public authority."
According to him, "Under the original Act a whistleblower was immunised from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (OSA) for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in government." However, the Amendment Bill takes away this immunity -- "no officer or #RTI user may come forward to blow the whistle for fear of prosecution under the OSA."
Pointing out that "this amendment trashes the principle of ‘safe alternative to silence’ which should underpin all whistleblower protection laws", Nayak says, now, "a whistleblower will be prevented from making a complaint on all grounds under which information can be refused under the RTI Act -- privacy, trade secrets, foreign relations, fiduciary relationship etc."
Explains the activist, "Unless the whistleblower is able to prove that he/she obtained his evidence of wrongdoing under the RTI Act, he/she can be punished for attaching such records to his whistleblower complaint -- so no officer or RTI user will come forward to blow the whistle on wrongdoing unless he obtains the information after the concerned Information Commission orders its disclosure in public interest".
Then there is another amendment, to Section 6, which would prevent any person from even giving evidence or rendering any kind of assistance to the competent authorities under certain specified circumstances. "The competent authorities will have no option but to drop such whistleblower complaints", comments Nayak.
Further, says Nayak, in yet another amendment, "even an Under Secretary grade officer, if appointed as the designated authority, can in theory, prevent the PM or the CM from ordering an inquiry into a whistleblower complaint if he/she certifies that the matter relates to ‘national security’," calling it a "ridiculous" amendment to Section 5.
Nayak, who is with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, demands, "All righteous minded citizens who share a vision of a corruption-free India must demand that this amendment Bill be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice for detailed deliberation so that citizens may provide inputs to the MPs as to why the major amendments will defeat the very purpose of the WBP Act."

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