Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

The responsibility to protect

Written by Shekhar Singh | Posted: May 6, 2013 12:43 am

A sound whistleblowers’ protection law is long awaited. It languishes in Parliament at the system’s peril

Nandi Singh,a resident of a remote village in Assam,was brutally attacked with axes in September 2012 as a result of a complaint filed by him regarding irregularities in the functioning of fair price shops supplying rations under the public distribution system. He succumbed to his injuries on the way to the hospital and his wife was seriously injured in the attack. Nandi Singh had also been attacked a month prior to his murder and had filed a case and sought protection. His wife and two children await justice.

Ram Thakur from Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district was shot dead last month by relatives of the mukhiya of his village. He had exposed embezzlement of funds in the MGNREGA in Ratnauli panchayat using muster rolls and other information he had accessed under the RTI Act. He had also alleged that the mukhiya of the village had siphoned off the funds. Prior to the fatal attack,there had been several incidents of attacks on him and he had repeatedly sought protection from the police.

Nandi Singh,Ram Thakur and thousands like them across the country have been threatened,assaulted,even killed for raising their voices against corruption and wrongdoing. Following the passage of the RTI Act in 2005,it isn’t just officials within the system who have access to government information — ordinary citizens across the country are holding local officials to account in ways that were unfathomable even a decade ago. Unfortunately,for these whistleblowers who dared to show truth to power,there has been no justice. Neither have their attacks and murders been properly investigated,nor have the cases of corruption and wrongdoing they exposed been dealt with.

The well-known case of Satyendra Dubey,a graduate from IIT-Kanpur who was murdered in 2003,after he exposed financial and contractual irregularities in the Golden Quadrilateral Corridor Project of the National Highways Authority of India,had sparked the demand for an effective bill to protect whistleblowers. However,over nine years and innumerable attacks on whistleblowers later,the bill remains stuck in legislative morass.

The Whistleblowers Protection Bill,introduced in Parliament in August 2010,was passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011 and has been awaiting discussion and passage in the Rajya Sabha. The bill provides for a mechanism to conceal the identity of a whistleblower,where (s)he feels that revelation of identity would lead to victimisation or harassment by vested interests. The bill makes it an offence to reveal the identity of the complainant and prescribes imprisonment and fine for anyone who reveals the identity. In addition,there are provisions to protect the whistleblower from victimisation resulting from the disclosures made.

There are,however,several lacunae in the bill that need to be discussed and addressed in Parliament. One of the most significant is the lack of a clear and adequately broad definition of what constitutes victimisation. It is critical to ensure that under the law,in case of a complaint of victimisation,the charge should stand established if the action or inaction that led to the complaint violates any law,rule,policy,order or continued…

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