Some important information about Whistle Blower Protection Act is:-
Why in News?
- Recently the government suggested amendments to the Whistle Blower Protection Act, 2014 to address the concerns of national security, which has seen opposition from the civil society.
- There have been multiple instances of threatening, harassment and even murder of numerous whistle blowers in the country. For example, the murder of Satyendra Dubey in 2003.
- After a long struggle demanding protection for the people to unveil any corrupt or wrong doing in a public organization, in 2014, the Whistle Blower Protection Act finally received President’s assent.
- The importance of such progressive expansion is underlined by the fact that in the last few years, more than 65 people have been killed for exposing corruption in the government on the basis of information they obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
- However, instead of operationalising the Whistle Blower Protection law, an amendment Bill, which fundamentally dilutes the law, was introduced in Parliament in 2015 by the government without public consultation.
Provisions under Whistle Blower Protection Act (WBPA), 2014
- It provides a broad definition of a whistle blower which goes beyond government officials and includes any other person or non-governmental organisation.
- The person may make a public interest disclosure to a competent authority (CA), notwithstanding anything contained in the provisions of Official Secrets Act, 1923.
- The CA may seek assistance of the CBI or police authorities or any other authority to carry out inquiries under the Act. For the purpose of inquiries, CA shall have all the powers of a civil court.
- Directions of this authority are binding. The organization in question is to act on recommendations within 3 months (max 6 months) or record reasons in writing for disagreement, else pay penalty for non-compliance.
- It ensures confidentiality and penalizes any public official that reveals a complainant’s identity, without proper approval, with up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to 50,000 rupees.
Recommended Amendments to the Act
- The amendment Bill seeks to remove immunity provided to whistle-blowers from prosecution under the draconian Official Secrets Act (OSA) for disclosures made under the WBP law. Offences under the OSA are punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years.
- To bring the WBP Act in line with the RTI Act, complaints by whistle-blowers containing information which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty, integrity, security or economic interests of the state shall not be inquired into.
- In addition, certain categories of information cannot form part of the disclosure made by a whistle-blower, unless the information has been obtained under the RTI Act. This includes what relates to commercial confidence, trade secrets which would harm the competitive position of a third party, etc. These exemptions have been modelled on Section 8(1) of the RTI law which lists information which cannot be disclosed to citizens.
- The amendment restricts complaints to a certain domain. This would exclude crucial areas from being scrutinised. For example, exposing corruption in nuclear facilities or sensitive army posts not be inquired may not be enquired. Surely the country would benefit if such wrongdoing is exposed so that appropriate action can be taken.
- The RTI Act already makes a lot of information inaccessible to the public on various grounds. By making it imperative for whistle blowers to prove they have obtained information through RTI, the amendment bill leaves very little room for actually calling out corruption in the system.
- The amendment talks about conflating the two acts. However, the two acts have different intent and purpose all together. The purpose of the RTI Act is to make information with public authorities accessible to all citizens in order to promote transparency and accountability while the purpose of WBPA is to reveal corruption related information to the public authority.
- Also, the information under RTI is what people have the right to know. While the information divulged under WBPA might or might not be meant for the public knowledge.
- RTI Act permits the relevant public authority to disclose information, if the public interest in revealing information outweighs the harm done to protected interests. The Whistle blower (Amendment) Bill 2015 does not have such provisions.
- Concerns related to national security can at no level be misjudged. However, such concerns can be well integrated with protection and encouragement for genuine whistle blowers without compromising the real intent behind WBPA, 2014.
- If the intention was to ensure that sensitive information pertaining to national security and integrity is not compromised, instead of carving out blanket exemptions the government could have proposed additional safeguards such as requiring complaints to be filed using sealed envelopes to the competent authorities.
- Government must take steps to make people aware of the existing provisions to file such complaints such as Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informer.
- Whistle Blowers take severest of risks for the integrity of the nation. The WBPA was well intended to protect this stratum of citizenry. And no such step should be taken that renders them vulnerable in the hands of corrupt people of the society.
Whistle Blower Protection Act and other More recent information:- Current Affairs.