Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Under Indian security garb whistleblower to be restricted from complaining on wrongdoing in military deals

By Our Representative
By seeking to go in for its amendment, is the Government of India ignoring the main principle underlying the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, passed by the Lok Sabha on December 27, 2011, and pushed through the Rajya Sabha on the last day of the extended session of Parliament, February 21, 2014 – to provide a “safe alternative” to silence to a person who has knowledge of or is witness to an offence or wrong doing in a public authority?
Armed with a crucial Cabinet note date May 6, 2015, a senior activist, Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), Delhi, has alleged, “The amendments are aimed at making it nearly impossible for a citizen, official or NGO or any private entity to make a whistleblower complaint.”
Basing on the Cabinet note, Nayak says, such are the amendments that “a witness will not be able to report custodial murder or torture or custodial rape unless he obtains proof of the same under the RTI Act (CCTV camera recordings?).” Nayak received it note on July 21 from the Ministry of Personnel, Government of India, on filing a right to information (RTI) plea.
And this, believes Nayak, is being done under the garb of “justifying the need for greater protection for national security-related matters”, adding, “The Cabinet note does not justify why other categories of information such as commercial secrets, parliamentary privilege and personal privacy must be brought in as restrictions on the right to blow the whistle. These categories of information have nothing to do with national security concerns.”
Nayak says, the Cabinet note suggests that “the restrictions on the fundamental right to free speech and expression and the right to information (RTI), which is a part of that right, as well as the prohibition of espionage under the Official Secrets Act must apply to whistleblowing as well.” He wonders, “Is there anything left to complain about if all these restrictions are applied to whistleblower complaint?”
Pointing towards the “implications of the amendment proposals”, which flow “logically” from the rationale explained in the Cabinet note, Nayak underlines, “To hold that a whistleblower must be prohibited from making a complaint if it relates to national security, defence or strategic or economic interests means that no official will be allowed to blow the whistle on scandals in defence procurement or any wrong doing in the stock exchanges or botch up in military strategies or failures of intelligence agencies.”
Then, Nayak asserts, “To hold that a whistleblower must be prohibited from making a complaint related to the commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property of a private company means that no officer, private person or NGO will be allowed to blow the whistle about environmental pollution or degradation of the ecology caused by that company's actions, often occurring in collusion with or connivance of other public servants.”
He adds, “If a person makes a complaint about unsafe drugs or harmful GM crops released into the market and concerned public servants have done nothing to stop it, then he or she has to show that the information has been obtained under the RTI Act.” Only then, the government department would give whistleblower will be certified if “it falls under an exempt category and take “further action on the complaint.”
Nayak further says, “To hold that a whistleblower must be prohibited from making a complaint related to the personal information about an individual means that no officer, private person or NGO will be able to make a complaint against any public servant for submitting false certificates relating to caste, education, income or character.”
And finally, Nayak says, “To hold that a whistleblower must be prohibited from making a complaint related to the personal information about a public servant means that he cannot make a complaint of bribery against a Minister unless he has obtained the supporting records under the RTI Act.”

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