September 1, 2010

whistleblower protection: a myth?

Satyendra Dubey

Satyendra Dubey was murdered seven years ago for exposing corruption in road projects in Jharkhand. One of the factors that contributed to his death was the way his letter to the Prime Minister was handled by the government: he was exposed and he had no protection - this despite his request to keep his identity secret. Two years later, Manjunath was killed for his exposing irrigularities in petrol distribution in Uttar Pradesh.

People who expose wrongdoings in their organisations are called whistleblowers. In doing so, the whistleblowers invite the wrath of not only the wrongdoers but the entire system. In government, this means he will be given a difficult posting, implicated in false cases, given summary punishments.In departments like police, revenue and forest, this may easily result in fixing him in false crime, breaking his limbs, even 'sudden death'.

Now a bill has been introduced in parliament to protect the whistleblower. The proposed bill has provisions for keeping the identity of the whistleblower confidential and strict penalty for not doing so. Also for acting against the guilty and stiff penalty for not doing so. It also provides for protection of the whistleblower against persecution. It gives judicial powers to the Central Vigilance Commission in protection of the whistleblower. Right now, the bill - The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010 - as introduced in parliament is available here.

The bill will soon become an act of law, perhaps sooner than a similar bill becomes an Act in the US. But the real test of the Act will be in its implementation. Remember reports of police brutality in more places than one when people applied for some information under the Right to Information Act? Or the recent killing of RTI activist Amit Jethwa  in front of the Ahmedabad High Court for his exposing mining mafia in Gujarat? Or the hacking to death of RTI activist Satish Shetty at Pune? Ot the scores of other activists killed in different parts of the country? We can only hope and wish that the law protects the whistleblower.

Another reason to be cynical about the law is the way legalities are allowed to obfuscate the real issue in India, and the way people misuse legal and administrative provisions for harassing others who have the potential to harm their vested interests. There are numerous examples of false dowry cases, frivolous RTI applications, false implication of superiors and colleagues for caste or gender harassment. In such cases, the law and authorities take the side of the supposed victim and the real innocent one loses his sleep, energy and wealth in proving himself right. Is there a way to ensure that such things do not happen to the whistleblower or whistleblowing is not used for harassment?

However, nothing reduces the importance of having a legal provision for protecting the whistleblower and acting against the guilty. After all, with all its weaknesses, the RTI Act too is playing its role in bringing about transparency in public affairs.

1 comment:

  1. found you through twitter.
    excellent stuff.
    dinesh 2 vikram@twitter