Earlier this month,the union cabinet cleared amendments to the Whistleblowers Protection Bill,which itself has not yet completed its passage through Parliament. A look at the amendment,the bill,and its status:
Where does the law to protect whistleblowers stand?
The Whistleblowers Protection Bill,introduced in 2010 and passed by the Lok Sabha on December 27,2011,has been pending clearance in the Rajya Sabha since.
What are the amendments newly cleared?
Key among them is that chief vigilance officers (CVOs) in the departments concerned,alongside the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC),will be designated to accept complaints of official positions being misused and corruption in government. So far,this was the prerogative of the CVC alone.
Since when has the CVC looked into such complaints?
Since 2004. On April 21 that year,the Centre adopted a resolution aimed at protecting the identity of whistleblowers considering that many of them had been killed. Under the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informers Resolution,the identity of the complainant is not to be revealed unless the complainant himself has either made the details of the complaint public or disclosed his identity to any other office or authority.
What kind of offices were covered?
The resolution designated the CVC as the agency to act on complaints from whistleblowers on any allegations of corruption or misuse of office by an employee of the central government,any corporation established under any central act,government companies or societies,or any local authority owned or controlled by the central government.
Why is the responsibility being shared with CVOs now?
The ground cited by the cabinet is,The workload of the commission has increased and the number of complaints under
PIDPIR [the resolution has increased.
How heavy is the workload?
The CVC lists 901 complaints nationwide in 2011,and 804 in 2012.
How do complainants view the amendment?
Many fear their identities and lives will be at risk because of the opening of multiple channels for receiving complaints. Many CVOs are part of the administration in their respective departments. They can manipulate investigations to protect their higher-ups, says a senior officer with the Indian Railway Service of Signal Engineers,who has filed many complaints with the CVC against corruption in railways. He cited an example: I once complained about the abuse of authority by a CVO in the railways. The CVC replied that it was not possible for it to investigate the matter. It suggested that if I agreed to disclose my identity,the complaint would be sent to the Railway Board. Obviously,the basic provision of concealing ones identity was not honoured.
Meanwhile,what has held up the bill?
The Lok Sabha had cleared it without
discussion in 2011. The Rajya Sabha hasnt found time to discuss it. It did take it up in August 2012,but the discussion was held up because of the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh. It wasnt discussed in that years winter session either,and hasnt come up yet in the current budget session.
How long is the road ahead?
Parliament sources say it would be very difficult for the bill to find a slot for discussion this session. And even if the Rajya Sabha does clear it eventually,it will need to go back to the Lok Sabha,which will then take up the amendments. It is quite possible,the sources say,that the bill will not be passed in the current Lok Sabha.
Waiting for discussion
August 26,2010: Whistleblowers Protection Bill introduced in Lok Sabha
September 16,2010: Referred to
June 9,2011: Standing committee submits its report
December 27,2011: Passed without discussion in Lok Sabha
December 28,2011: Tabled in Rajya Sabha
March 29,2012: Motion moved in Rajya Sabha
August 14,2012: Discussion started,then held up following Vilasrao Deshmukhs death
Winter session 2012: No discussion
Budget session 2013: Not discussed in Rajya Sabha yet
August 1,2013: Cabinet clears