Monday, December 07, 2015

Top Indian civil rights group warns: Will approach court if Rajya Sabha amends whistleblowers Act

By Our Representative
Top advocacy group Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), based in Delhi, has warned that if the Rajya Sabha passes the Whistle Blowers Protection (WBP) Amendment Bill, it “may have to" move courts, along with other civil society organizations, “to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill vis-a-vis basic human right to accountable governance and the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Discussions on amendment to the Act, passed in Parliament in 2011, took place in the Rajya Sabha on December 7 afternoon, and are likely to continue on December 8. The Lok Sabha has already cleared the amendments, which civil society activists believe will curb the whistleblowers’ right to expose corruption in high places in the name of national security and infringing privacy.
Taking objection to Rajya Sabha MPs cutting across party lines failing to note that the amendment Bill seeks to undermine the citizens’ “absolute right to blow the whistle on corruption, wrongdoing or the commission of offense by public servants”, CHRI’s Venkatesh Nayak said in an e-mail alert, “Importing exemptions under the RTI Act to the WBP Act wholesale is a very clever method of ensuring that no person comes forward to blow the whistle.”
Reiterating that there are in all “32 tests for whistleblowing that the NDA government would like to impose in its infinite wisdom” of amending the Bill, Nayak insisted, one should remember, “there is no bar in Article 19(2) on the right to blow the whistle on corruption, wrongdoing or any offense committed by public servants” in the 2011 Act.
“The WBP Amendment Bill seems like an attempt to introduce such an unreasonable restriction without even amending the Constitution”, Nayak said, adding, “None of the MPs who spoke on the WBP Amendment Bill pointed out clearly the difference between Section 8(1) of the RTI Act and the retrograde amendments to the WBP Act.”
He underlines, “The WBP Amendment Bill assumes that once a whistleblower complaint is made it will become publicly accessible, therefore it is necessary to protect national security, the dignity and privilege of Parliament and the Courts, commercial and trade secrets, fair investigation of and trial in crimes, intelligence informers, international relations, Cabinet secrecy and lastly personal privacy of individuals.”
Supporting the 2011 Act, Nayak says, “Nothing in the WBP Act permits the whistleblower complaint to be made public by the competent authorities. The entire scheme of the law is designed to ensure confidentiality of not only the whistleblower's identity but also the progress of the inquiry into the whistleblower complaint until a final decision is reached.”
According to Nayak, who followed the debate in Rajya Sabha, just one MP talked about the exceptions for blowing a whistle, saying that the amendment Bill is not just about safeguarding national security “but introduces 10 grounds for preventing whistleblowing.”
Yet, he underlined, “None of the MPs pointed out that the absolute bar on even making a whistleblower complaint, if they attracted the 10 grounds, was simply unacceptable in a democratic government based on the principle of the rule of law.” He commented, “Wrongdoing cannot be masked under the garb of national security or trade secrets or personal privacy.”
Worse, Nayak said, some MPs referred to the deaths of 30 whistleblowers since 2010. Suggesting that the MPs did not know the difference between whistleblowers and other RTI activists, he added, “Close to 50 RTI users and activists have lost their lives since 2005 for seeking the most mundane of information from public authorities, and this factum was worth quoting in the debate.”
Nayak explained, “To the best of my knowledge no RTI user or activist was attacked or murdered for seeking information about national security or trade secrets. They lost their lives demanding transparency in the spending of public funds, public decision making process and reasons for the inaction of the police in acting against criminals and land, sand and construction mafia.”

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