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Letter to Modi: 18 whistleblowers killed, as govt refuses to implement Act to protect them

Counterview Desk
The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI), in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding non-implementation of the Whistle Blowers Protection (WBP) Act, passed 5 years ago, on February 21, 2014, has said that government indifference stands in sharp contrast to scores of whistleblowers being threatened, attacked and even killed.
Signed by senior Right to Information (RTI) activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog, and Pradip Pradhan, the letter regrets, Government of India, instead of operationalizing the Act, wants to dilute it. Thus, among other provisions, it proposes removal of the clause which safeguards whistleblowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for disclosing information as part of their complaint.

Text of the letter:

The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) is deeply anguished by the failure of the Government of India to operationalise the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBP Act), which was passed by Parliament five years ago on February 21, 2014.
The WBP Act provides a statutory framework for concealing the identity of whistleblowers and protecting them against victimization. It establishes a mechanism to receive, and inquire into, complaints against public servants relating to: offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; wilful misuse of power or discretion; or attempt to commit or commission of a criminal offence.
The demand for a statutory mechanism to protect whistleblowers started in 2003, with the murder of Satyendra Dubey, who blew the whistle on corruption in the National Highways Authority of India. The WBP Act was finally passed on the last day of the winter session of the Rajya Sabha in 2014, after a 20 day long dharna outside offices of political parties and the Parliament by whistleblowers, their families and citizens, including RTI users.
In order to operationalise the law, the government was required to frame rules and notify the date of the Act coming into force. The failure of the government to operationalise and implement the law has undermined the will of Parliament to provide statutory protection to whistleblowers. In the last 5 years, scores of people have been killed and many more attacked and victimised for coming forward to report on corruption and wrongdoing.
These people could have been afforded protection had the government implemented the law. In 2018 alone, 18 people were killed for blowing the whistle on corruption on the basis of information accessed under the RTI Act.
Instead of operationalising the WBP Act, an amendment bill was introduced in Parliament in 2015 to dilute several key provisions of the law. The amendment bill was brought to the Lok Sabha without any public debate or consultation on its contents. The text of the amendment bill was made public only when it was introduced in Lok Sabha, where the bill was passed hurriedly, despite demands from several Members of Parliament to have it referred to a deliberative committee.
In the Rajya Sabha, several MPs moved a proposal to have the bill referred to a select committee, however, this demand was also ignored. The amendment bill, among other provisions, proposes removal of the clause which safeguards whistleblowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for disclosing information as part of their complaint.
Offences under the OSA are punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years. Threat of such stringent action would deter even bonafide whistleblowers and defeat the very purpose of the law, which is to encourage people to come forward and report wrongdoing.
The government has repeatedly cited the pendency of the proposed amendments as the reason for non-implementation of the WBP Act. Proposed amendments to a law cannot be a justification for not implementing it. In any case, if it was felt that certain amendments were required, a proper consultative process could have been adopted within and outside Parliament to address concerns of citizens and MPs regarding the contentious amendments proposed in the bill. The amendment bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha, will now lapse with the dissolution of the lower House with the upcoming general elections.
Brutal attacks on whistleblowers and RTI users in the country have highlighted the vulnerability of those who dare to show truth to power. It is the moral obligation of the state to protect these conscience keepers who, at great risk, expose corruption and wrongdoing in the system. Unless proper systems are put in place to empower whistleblowers by offering them protection, and ensuring that their complaints are effectively investigated into and acted upon, corruption will continue to thrive with impunity in society.
It is most unfortunate that the government has failed to implement the WBP Act, which is an integral part of any effective anti-corruption framework. The non-implementation of the law has significantly weakened the fight against corruption.
We urge you to immediately ensure that appropriate steps are taken to operationalise the WBP Act.

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