Thursday, May 05, 2016

Modi govt "diluting" anti-corruption legislations in order to "protect" bureaucrats, politicians: NCPRI

By Our Representative
The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), India's apex body of RTI organizations, has accused the Modi government, in office for two years, of failing to make any progress on anti-corruption legislations, insisting, “Even the existing legislations and mechanisms are being undermined.”
The Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBP Act) was passed in 2014, after 12 years of the murder of whislteblower Satyendra Dubey after families of whistleblowers and activists of NCPRI held protests for over 20 days. The Act provides protection of identity for whistleblowers and safeguards against their victimization, NCPRI activists said in a media press conference in Delhi.
Instead of promulgating rules to operationalise the WBP law, the government has “moved an amendment bill in Parliament which seeks to severely dilute the Act”, activists pointed out, adding, the amendments seek to “remove safeguards available to whistleblowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.”
Further, the amendments have introduced “wide-ranging exclusions by stating that disclosures should not contain information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State.”
“The current status of the WBP Amendment Bill is not clear”, NCPRI co-convener Anjali Bharadwaj said, adding, “Whereas the debate on the bill in the Rajya Sabha and the proposal to refer it to a select committee was not concluded, on April 28, 2016 the concerned Minister, in reply to a question in Parliament, stated that the Amendment Bill had been sent to a committee.”
Dhananjay Dubey, Satyendra Dubey's brother, said, “Despite assurances from BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad that they were committed to the WBP Act, the government had taken no steps to prevent deaths of whistleblowers. Close to 60 people have been killed in the last few years for exposing corruption and wrongdoing in the government.”
NCPRI's senior activist Sanjay Sahni added, lives of whistleblowers like his colleague Ram Kumar Thakur could have been saved if the WBP Act was operationalised. “Ram Kumar Thakur wrote to the
Police and the state government seeking protection, however no action was taken”, he said.
As for the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act (LL Act), activists said, instead of operationalizing it, the activists said, as amendment bill, called the the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014, was deliberated upon by the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, which presented its report in December 2015.
“Among other issues, the amendments seek to dilute the Act by exempting bureaucrats from declaring assets and liabilities of their spouses and dependent children”, activists said.
“Further, the amendment does away with the requirement of public disclosure of the asset declarations on the grounds that disclosure of such information might expose public servants and their families to threats and kidnappings”, they added.
Nikhil Dey, the other co-convener of the NCPRI, said, despite public disclosure of asset declarations of lakhs of candidates contesting elections across the country and of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts, “no evidence of threats/blackmail had come to light and, therefore, there is no
rationale for this amendment.”
Similarly, Dey said, the grievance redress (GR) Bill, which the the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in July 2014 that it was “part of Immediate Thrust Areas of the Government”, is likely to be dropped.
“In March 2016, in response to a question in Parliament, the government made no reference to the legislation and instead stated that it was preparing a scheme known as Delivery of Services and Grievances Redressal Scheme”, he said.

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