सीधे मुख्य सामग्री पर जाएं

If Rajya Sabha amends whistleblowers Bill, activists may have to challenge it

\By Venkatesh Nayak*
The Rajya Sabha (Upper House in India’s Parliament) took up the Government’s proposed amendments to the Whistleblower Protection Act, 2011 (WBP Act) for discussion on December 7, 2015. Members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to both the treasury and opposition benches spoke on the contents and implications of the Bill. Any person who has a reasonably good understanding of what it takes to protect whistleblowers would have recognised that the MPs were simply not well prepared to discuss the serious implications of the retrograde amendments that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government is proposing. The discussion on the Bill already passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) could not be completed on December 7. Meanwhile, Hussain Dalwai, MP from the Indian National Congress (INC), has moved amendments to the Bill and there is also a major demand to refer the amendment proposals to a Select Committee of the House along with the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 as they are said to be interlinked.

What core issues were not reflected in the Rajya Sabha debate on the WBP Amendment Bill today?

While the MPs speaking for the Opposition, particularly, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) said again and again that the legal grounds for refusing access to information to citizens under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) could not imported lock stock and barrel into the WBP, the justification given by most of them for such objection was simply not convincing at all. One of the MPs representing the NDA went as far as saying that the Bill was brought to harmonise whistleblowing with Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which imposes reasonable restrictions on that fundamental right of which RTI is deemed to be a part. I hope the MP was compelled to speak the party line and was saying so.
If it was not the party line, this assertion unfortunately betrays an unfortunate lack of knowledge of what whistleblowing is about or what Article 19(2) is meant to do to Article 19(1)(a). One UPA MP even candidly admitted that the NDA Government had brought the Bill for discussion in such a rush that he could not refresh his memory about what was wrong with the Bill and collect his prepared notes. This led to the Minister piloting the Bill to take a dig at him for speaking without adequate knowledge of the issue. I remember hearing another UPA MP saying that they were not opposed to the “principle” underlying the Amendment Bill but were pressing for debate on its contentions provisions in a Select Committee nominated for that purpose. It is the Bill’s underlying principle that is hugely problematic.
First, none of the MPs who spoke in the Rajya Sabha on the WBP Amendment Bill including those of the NDA who claim to have a copyright over all things “Hindu” said that those amendments would negate India’s national motto – “satyameva jayate” (=truth alone shall triumph) borrowed from the ancient text Mundaka Upanishad which forms one of the important foundational texts of ancient Hindu philosophy. The thinking of the NDA Government is made crystal clear in the Cabinet Note that was prepared for seeking the Union Cabinet’s approval for the WBP amendments.
Paras 4.1-4.2 of the Cabinet Note make the Government’s intention very clear that citizens of India cannot have an absolute right to blow the whistle on corruption, wrongdoing or the commission of offences by public servants. It is one thing to say that citizens’ freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. True, these rights cannot be used to trample upon the rights of other individuals or jeopardise the existence of peaceful society or the ability of the State to function effectively but importing the exemptions under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act to the WBP Act wholesale is a very clever method of ensuring that no person comes forward to blow the whistle.
There are in all 32 tests for whistleblowing that the NDA Government would like to impose in its infinite wisdom (click HERE). This is a clear violation of the national motto which emphasise the triumph of the truth even in the worst of situations and also an unreasonable restriction on the right to free speech and expression. Remember, there is no bar in Article 19(2) on the right to blow the whistle on corruption, wrongdoing or any offence committed by public servants. The WBP Amendment Bill seems like an attempt to introduce such an unreasonable restriction without even amending the Constitution.
Second, none of the MPs who spoke on the WBP Amendment Bill pointed out clearly the difference between Section 8(1) of the RTI Act and the retrograde amendments to the WBP Act. The WBP Amendment Bill assumes that once a whistleblower complaint is made it will become publicly accessible, therefore it is necessary to protect national security, the dignity and privilege of Parliament and the Courts, commercial and trade secrets, fair investigation of and trial in crimes, intelligence informers, international relations, Cabinet secrecy and lastly personal privacy of individuals – and that too when the Supreme Court of India has accepted the NDA’s contention that whether the individual’s right to privacy is guaranteed under the Constitution is in doubt.
However, nothing in the WBP Act permits the whistleblower complaint to be made public by the competent authorities. The entire scheme of the law is designed to ensure confidentiality of not only the whistleblower’s identity but also the progress of the inquiry into the whistleblower complaint until a final decision is reached. So the very basis for the bar on whistleblowing sought to be introduced in Clause 4 is untenable at best and mischievous at worst.
Of course, references were made to several things under the sun both burning in the present and consigned to the pages of history – from the Good and Services Tax Bill and reservations for the disadvantaged segments of society to Stalinist Russia and China which reformed under the late Deng Xiao Ping although one wondered what was the connection. While the rights of MPs to speak their minds freely on issues before the House must be respected, citizens do have the right to expect a more informed debate with MPs presenting deeper insights for their stance- supporting or opposing a Bill under consideration. Any person who watched today’s debate would have sorely missed this level of maturity. It is the citizens’ right to comment and debate the quality of the discussions in Parliament without of course indulging in defamation.
Thankfully, one of the MPs did mention that the initial debate on the need for tightening the exceptions to whistleblowing which took place in February 2014 focused only on national security concerns whereas the WBP Amendment Bill introduces 10 grounds for preventing whistleblowing (out of which three grounds can be waived if the documents supporting the complaint are shown to have been obtained under the RTI Act). However none of the MPs pointed out that the absolute bar on even making a whistleblower complaint or the competent authorities taking it into cognizance if they attracted the 10 grounds was simply unacceptable in a democratic government based on the principle of the rule of law. Wrongdoing cannot be masked under the garb of national security or trade secrets or personal privacy.
Some MPs referred to the deaths of 30 whistleblowers since 2010. It is not sure whether they were referring to whistleblowers other than RTI activists. Close to 50 RTI users and activists have lost their lives since 2005 for seeking the most mundane of information from public authorities and this factum was worth quoting in the debate.
Meanwhile, inspired by media reports of the representations made by various officer associations to the 7th Pay Commission, which submitted its reports recently, I filed two RTI applications with the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India asking for a copy of those representations. They sent me a Bill for Rs. 108, which I have paid. So there must be several submissions received in relation to pay packets and superiority of one service over the other. However, my 2nd RTI to the same Department asking the number of representation made by officers in relation to the WBP Amendment Bill being debated in Parliament drew a blank.
Is this indicative of where the concerns of many members of the bureaucracy lie? Can Indian citizens expect either the political establishment or the bureaucracy to champion the cause of whistleblower protection in India, or is it going to be like the RTI Act which nobody likes except for the millions of citizens who have used it very creatively and sometimes paid the price of their lives demanding transparency and accountability in the most mundane of things?
To the best of my knowledge no RTI user or activist was attacked or murdered for seeking information about national security or trade secrets. They lost their lives demanding transparency in the spending of public funds, public decision making process and reasons for the inaction of the police in acting against criminals and land, sand and construction mafia.
If the Rajya Sabha passes the WBP Amendment Bill, many of us in civil society may have to move the Courts to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill vis-a-vis the basic human right to accountable governance and the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

*Programme Coordinator, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

टिप्पणियाँ

ट्रेंडिंग

हिंदी आलोचना जैसे पिछड़ चुके अनुशासन की जगह हिंदी वैचारिकी का विकास जरूरी

- प्रमोद रंजन*   भारतीय राजनीति में सांप्रदायिक व प्रतिक्रियावादी ताकतों को सत्ता तक पहुंचाने में हिंदी पट्टी का सबसे बड़ा योगदान है। इसका मुख्य कारण हिंदी-पट्टी में कार्यरत समाजवादी व जनपक्षधर हिरावल दस्ते का विचारहीन, अनैतिक और  प्रतिक्रियावादी होते जाना है। अगर हम उपरोक्त बातों को स्वीकार करते हैं, तो कुछ रोचक निष्कर्ष निकलते हैं। हिंदी-जनता और उसके हिरावल दस्ते को विचारहीन और प्रतिक्रियावादी बनने से रोकने की मुख्य ज़िम्मेदारी किसकी थी?

ગુજરાતના સ્થાપના દિવસે યાદ કરીએ ભારતના વિશ્વપ્રસિદ્ધ ગુજરાતી પુરાતત્વવિદ્ ને

- ગૌરાંગ જાની*  આજે કોઈ ગુજરાતી એ કલ્પના પણ ન કરી શકે કે વર્ષ ૧૮૩૯ માં જૂનાગઢમાં જન્મેલા એક ગુજરાતી વિશ્વ પ્રસિદ્ધ બની શકે! પણ આપણે એ ગુજરાતીને કદાચ વિસરી ગયા છીએ જેમણે ગિરનારના અશોક શિલાલેખને દોઢસો વર્ષ પૂર્વે ઉકેલી આપ્યો.આ વિદ્વાન એટલે ભગવાનલાલ ઈન્દ્રજી. ૭ નવેમ્બર, ૧૮૩૯ ના દિવસે જૂનાગઢના પ્રશ્નોરા નાગર બ્રાહ્મણ પરિવારમાં તેમનો જન્મ થયો હતો. જૂનાગઢના એ સમયે અંગ્રેજી શિક્ષણની સગવડ ન હોવાને કારણે તેમને અંગ્રેજી ભાષાનું જ્ઞાન ન હતું પણ પાછળથી તેમણે ખપ પૂરતું અંગ્રેજી જાણી લીધું હતું.

Under Modi, democracy is regressing and economy is also growing slowly

By Avyaan Sharma*   India is "the largest democracy in the world", but now its democracy is regressing and its economy is also growing slowly. What has PM Modi's ten years in power brought us? Unemployment remains high. Joblessness is particularly high among India's youth - with those aged 15 to 29 making up a staggering 83% of all unemployed people in India, according to the "India Employment Report 2024", published last month by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Institute of Human Development (IHD). The BJP-led government did not provide jobs to two crore youth in a year as was promised by Modi in the run up to the 2014 general elections.

नफरती बातें: मुसलमानों में असुरक्षा का भाव बढ़ रहा है, वे अपने मोहल्लों में सिमट रहे हैं

- राम पुनियानी*  भारत पर पिछले 10 सालों से हिन्दू राष्ट्रवादी भारतीय जनता पार्टी (भाजपा) राज कर रही है. भाजपा आरएसएस परिवार की सदस्य है और आरएसएस का लक्ष्य है हिन्दू राष्ट्र का निर्माण. आरएसएस से जुड़ी सैंकड़ों संस्थाएँ हैं. उसके लाखों, बल्कि शायद, करोड़ों स्वयंसेवक हैं. इसके अलावा कई हजार वरिष्ठ कार्यकर्ता हैं जिन्हें प्रचारक कहा जाता है. भाजपा के सत्ता में आने के बाद से आरएसएस दुगनी गति से हिन्दू राष्ट्र के निर्माण के अपने एजेण्डे को पूरा करने में जुट गया है. यदि भाजपा को चुनावों में लगातार सफलता हासिल हो रही है तो उसका कारण है देश में साम्प्रदायिकता और साम्प्रदायिक मुद्दों का बढ़ता बोलबाला. इनमें से कुछ हैं राम मंदिर, गौमांस और गोवध एवं लव जिहाद. 

Laxmanpur Bathe massacre: Perfect example of proto-fascist Brahmanical social order

By Harsh Thakor  The massacre at Laxmanpur-Bathe of Jehanabad in Bihar on the night of 1 December in 1997 was a landmark event with distinguishing features .The genocide rightly shook the conscience of the nation in the 50th year of Indian independence. The scale of the carnage was unparalleled in any caste massacre. It was a perfect manifestation of how in essence the so called neo-liberal state was in essence most autocratic. 

रैंकिंग: अधिकांश भारतीय विश्वविद्यालयों का स्तर बहुत गिरा, इस साल भी यह गिरवाट जारी

- प्रमोद रंजन*  अप्रैल, 2024 में भारतीय विश्वविद्यालयों की अंतर्राष्ट्रीय स्तर पर उच्च रैंकिंग की चर्चा रही। मीडिया ने इसका उत्सव मनाया। लेकिन स्थिति इसके विपरीत है। वैश्विक विश्वविद्यालय रैंकिग में अच्छा स्थान मिलने की खबरें, कुछ संस्थानों को इक्का-दुक्का विषयों में मिले रैंक के आधार पर चुनिंदा ढंग से प्रकाशित की गईं थीं। वास्तविकता यह है कि हाल के वर्षों में हमारे अधिकांश विश्वविद्यालयों का स्तर बहुत गिर गया है। इस साल भी यह गिरवाट जारी रही है।

नोएडा में मैन्युअल स्कैवेंजर्स की मौत: परिवारों को मुआवजा नहीं, प्राधिकरण ने एफआईआर नहीं की

- अरुण खोटे, संजीव कुमार*  गत एक सप्ताह में, उत्तर प्रदेश में सीवर/सेप्टि क टैंक सफाई कर्मियों की सफाई के दौरान सेप्टिक टैंक में मौत। 2 मई, 2024 को, लखनऊ के वज़ीरगजं क्षेत्र में एक सेवर लाइन की सफाई करते समय शोब्रान यादव, 56, और उनके पत्रु सशुील यादव, 28, घटुन से हुई मौत। एक और घटना 3 मई 2024 को नोएडा, सेक्टर 26 में एक घर में सेप्टि क टैंक को सफाई करते समय दो सफाई कर्मचर्मारी नूनी मडंल, 36 और कोकन मडंल जिसे तपन मडंल के नाम से जानते हैं, की मौत हो गई। ये सफाई कर्मचर्मारी बंगाल के मालदा जिले के निवासी थे और नोएडा सेक्टर 9 में रहते थे। कोकन मडंल अपनी पत्नी अनीता मडंल के साथ रहते थे। इनके तीन स्कूल जाने वाले बच्चे हैं जो बंगाल में रहते हैं। नूनी मडंल अपनी पत्नी लिलिका मडंल और अपने पत्रु सजुान के साथ किराए पर झग्गी में रहते थे। वे दैनिक मजदरूी और सफाई कर्मचर्मारी के रूप में काम करते थे।

दाँव उल्टा पड़ा: राहुल गांधी के रूप में हम एक साधारण इंसान को नायक होते देख रहे हैं

-  अमिता नीरव  संघ औऱ बीजेपी ने राहुल गाँधी पर जो सोचकर ‘इन्वेस्ट’ किया था, उसके परिणाम गंभीर रूप से नुकसानदेह आ रहे हैं। ये थोड़ी अटपटी बात लग सकती है, लेकिन सोचिएगा कि संघ और बीजेपी ने राहुल गाँधी को जितना गंभीरता से लिया, उनकी संभावनाओं को लेकर वे जितना श्योर थे, उतना तो खुद राहुल और कांग्रेस भी नहीं थी।

બે પુખ્ત યુવક-યુવતીન જીવનસાથી બનવા નક્કી કરે તો સત્તાધારીઓના પેટમાં કેમ ગોળો ચઢે છે?

- બિપિન શ્રોફ   “લવ જેહાદ”! કેવો લાગ્યો આ  શબ્દ?  શું મારુ કે તમારું નાકનું ટેરવું તો ચઢી ગયું  નથી ને? લખનાર અને વાંચનાર બે માંથી કોઈના મા-બાપની કોઈ ગરાશ તો લૂંટાઈ ગઈ નથી ને ? એ તો જેને વીતે તેને ખબર પડે? પરોપ દેશે પાંડિત્યમ! કેમ? ખરી વાત ને? 

बिहार के ऐतिहासिक विक्रमशिला विश्वविद्यालय के खंडहरों की परिक्रमा का रोमांचक अवसर

- सुमन्त शरण  कुछ दिन पहले एक सुदूर ग्रामीण अंचल (पीरपैंती)  से तकरीबन डेढ़-दो घंटे की दूरी पर अवस्थित ऐतिहासिक बौद्ध विक्रमशिला विश्वविद्यालय (के अवशेषों) की परिक्रमा का अवसर मिला। विक्रमशीला विश्वविद्यालय की स्थापना पाल वंश के राजा धर्मपाल ने की थी। 8वीं शताब्दी से 12वीं शताब्दी के अंत तक यह विश्वविद्यालय भारत के प्रमुख शिक्षा केंद्रों में से एक हुआ करता था। कहा जाता है कि यह अपने कुछेक अत्यंत अनूठे नवाचार के चलते उस समय नालंदा विश्वविद्यालय का सबसे बड़ा प्रतिस्पर्धी था। हालांकि, मान्यता यह भी है कि अल्प अवधि के लिए दोनों विश्वविद्यालय के बीच शिक्षण एवं प्रबंधन के क्षेत्रों में घनिष्ठ पारस्परिक संबंध एवं शिक्षकों के आदान-प्रदान का सिलसिला भी रहा था। यह विश्वविद्यालय तंत्रशास्त्र की पढ़ाई के लिए सबसे ज्यादा विख्यात था। इस विषय का एक सबसे विख्यात छात्र अतीसा दीपनकरा था, जो बाद में तिब्बत जाकर बौद्ध हो गया। इसके प्रथम कुलपति ज्ञान अतिस थे।