More than five years after National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) engineer Satyendra Dubey was killed after he complained of corruption and the government failed to protect his identity,the draft of a new law aimed at protecting whistleblowers has been finalised. The government has also put in place a system to handle complaints against government functionaries by persons who wish to remain anonymous.
Union Ministers,however,are proposed to be kept out of the purview of the proposed law.
The Indian Express was provided exclusive access to the draft of the Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill,2009 prepared by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). Sources said the proposed legislation has been drafted by a committee headed by the Secretary,Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
Once a Committee of Secretaries which has been constituted by the Cabinet Secretariat approves the draft,we will take it to the Cabinet for approval. We intend to introduce it in the next session of Parliament, said a senior officer of the Ministry of Personnel and Training.
In April 2004,under Supreme Court pressure,the Government had issued an order Public Interest Disclosures and Protection of Informers Resolution,2004 designating the CVC as the nodal agency to handle complaints on corruption.
As per the draft law,any person can make a complaint of corruption or disclosure against any Central government employee or any other Central government-backed institution to the CVC. The CVC,which would be designated as the competent authority (CA) for complaints,would have the powers of a civil court,including powers to summon anybody,order police investigation and provide security to the whistleblower.
The CVC would not reveal the identity of the complainant but would have the authority to ignore complaints of vexatious or frivolous nature. It would also not be able to investigate complaints pertaining to matters which are sub-judice,prejudicial to the security of the Defence establishments,international relations,proceedings of the Union Cabinet or those beyond the limitation period of five years.
While the draft law doesnt deal with corporate whistleblowers,sources told The Indian Express that as per the recommendation of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission,the Cabinets nod may also be sought to enlarge the scope of the proposed law in order to appoint a competent authority to deal with corporate whistleblowers.
Sources said the draft Bill was prepared keeping in view the observations of a Group of Minister (GoM) constituted on the orders of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The GoM discarded a previously drafted Bill Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill,2002. The GoM examined the 2002 Public Interest Disclosures as well as Protection of Informers Resolution,2004 and the system that is prevalent in other countries to protect whistleblowers. The consensus was that the Resolution was insufficient, the source said.
The GoM also directed that a Committee of Secretaries (CoS) be constituted to ensure that any proposed law doesnt become an instrument of harassment or demoralisation of civil servants while at the same time ensuring adequate protection to whistleblowers.
Even the CoS was unhappy with the 2002 draft and said a fresh draft be prepared, said a source.
In its comments on the proposed law,the CVC has said that ministers,except the Prime Minister,should be included in the ambit of the proposed law. It has also said that the CA should be given the power to take action against any authority/officer found revealing the identity of the whistleblower.
The corruption watchdog has also taken exception to the clause that says that anybody making complaints/disclosures malafidely would be punished with imprisonment or fine or both. This,the CVC said,would militate against the spirit of the statute.
On the other hand,even as it was finalising the draft Bill,the DoPT surmised that some clauses of the proposed law could be in direct conflict with the CVC Act,2003 and RTI Act,2005.