Muffled Whistles

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Published: August 6, 2015 12:33:11 AM

The govt coming out against the “absolute right” to unmask corruption is bad news for curbing graft

It was always clear that the proposed amendments to the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA) would shrink the ambit of exposing corruption. But that the government believes that people shouldn’t have “the absolute right” to expose graft—as reported by the Times of India—spells bad news for India, ranked 85th among 175 countries for perception of corruption by Transparency International.

Not only do the amendments seek to withdraw the protection available for those unmasking graft in areas covered under the Official Secrets Act, they also forbid the disclosure of information related to the integrity and security of the nation—that leaves defence deals out, the Bofors , Tatra and other scams notwithstanding—and the strategic, scientific and economic interests of the country. The last virtually leaves no room at all for whistle blowing! Also out of WPA ambit is information relating to commercial confidence and competitive position of third party, apart from the records of deliberations of the Cabinet, secretaries and other officials, unless such information can be given under the RTI Act. Fiduciary relationships—that include trustee/director-firm relationships—have also been left out, unless, again, RTI provisions apply; an official on the board of a PSU or a government institution, thus, is not encouraged to report graft. The focus on RTI-derived information sharing forces out the whistle-blower within the government who accesses such information without taking that route. And as if this was not enough, as per the amendments, the competent authority—the WPA empowers the Central Vigilance Commission to receive complaints, assess the merit of public disclosure and safeguard the whistle blower—can’t start an inquiry or protect the whistle-blower if the disclosure pertains to these areas. Instead, it has to delegate the disposal of such applications to a Centre- or state government-appointed body, leaving the fate of the whistle blower to the powers he is complaining against.

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