Government acknowledges daring activists, provides shield to whistleblowers

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Maharashtra has seen 53 attacks on RTI activists since 2005.
In a progressive move the Government has informed the Lok Sabha that it will ensure whistleblowers or people exposing corruption can get security. This move will give more teeth to the Right to Information Act as there was long standing demand for safety of vulnerable whistleblowers and RTI activists in the country.

There have been cases of murders of whistleblowers and RTI activists at the hands of mafias and vested interest groups, ever since the RTI Act came into being in 2005. RTI Act which aims at promoting transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority provides inadequate protection to whistleblowers.

What has the Modi Government done?

The Narendra Modi government has authorised Chief Vigilance Officers (CVOs) of ministries or departments of the Central Government as designated authority to receive any written complaint or disclosure on any allegation of corruption or misuse of office in respect of any employee working under them.

Maharashtra has seen 53 attacks on RTI activists since 2005

If the designated authority in the ministries or departments, either on the application of the complainant, or on the basis of the information gathered, is of the opinion that the complainant needs protection, the designated authority shall take up the matter with the Central Vigilance Commission for issuing appropriate directions to the authorities concerned, it said.

"The Commission, after receipt of such reference from the designated authority, takes up the matter with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the nodal agency, to undertake the responsibility of providing security cover to the genuine whistleblowers," Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions Jitendra Singh said in a written reply.

The Home Ministry asked individual State Governments to examine the threat and provide security cover, if needed, to all such whistleblowers.
Despite such a vital step, the Government's move might sound a half-heated one as the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2011 hasn't come into force till date.

What is Whistleblowers Protection Act?

This Act provides a mechanism to probe alleged corruption and misuse of power by public servants and also protect anyone who exposes alleged wrongdoing in government bodies, projects and offices. The wrongdoing might take the form of fraud, corruption or mismanagement. The Act will also ensure punishment for false or frivolous complaints.

Why there is a need for Whistleblowers' Protection Act?

Despite getting a go ahead from the Rajya Sabha and receiving President's assent in May 2014, the Act hasn't come into force till date. Once came into force this Act would ensure safety and security to thousands of vulnerable anti-graft crusaders want to use -- out of anger after becoming a victim to day to day corruption prevalent in the Indian system, or wants to bring a change -- this effective tool to bring corrupt people, practices into public attention. Sadly, scores of such people eventually end up coming on the radar of corrupt people and face attacks, threats, physical or mental assaults and even murdered in several cases.

As per a data presented by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) over the last eight years - ever since RTI Act came into effect - Maharashtra has seen 53 attacks on RTI activists, including nine cases of murder. Gujarat comes second with 34 attacks, including 3 murders. Delhi, Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka follow with over 10 reported attacks on RTI activists during the same period. Data reveals that 32 alleged murders and two suicides were directly linked with RTI applications filed.

With rising number of RTIs being filed across the country and an increase in the number of whistleblowers, ensuring safety to such people would be a daunting task for the Centre as well as the state governments. But, once the government ensures protection to those who are being threatened, fast tracks the existing cases dealing with the murder of whistleblowers/RTI activists and guilty punished. It will instill fear in the minds of those who fearlessly take laws in their hands.

One just hopes that effective implementation of this move helps in bringing a glacial change and prevents the loss of innocent people being killed simply for exposing corruption or bringing truth into public domain.

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