The Act aims to protect people who bring to the notice of the authorities concerned allegations of corruption, wilful misuse of power or commission of a criminal offence against a public servant.
Significantly, in defining who a whistle-blower is, the law goes beyond government officials who expose corruption they come across in the course of their work. It includes any other person or non-governmental organisation.
The RTI law has empowered the common man to have access to information from public authorities — which only government officials were earlier privy to — making every citizen a potential whistle-blower.
The WBP law has provisions for concealing the identity of a whistle-blower, if so desired, following cases such as Satyendra K. Dubey’s, whose murder in 2003 led to demand for such legislation.
The law affords protection against victimisation of the complainant or anyone who renders assistance in an inquiry.
The law empowers the competent authorities to accord them protection, which includes police protection and penalising those who victimise them.
Cause of concern:
Whistle-blowers are routinely subjected to various forms of victimisation — suspensions, withholding of promotions, threats of violence and attacks.
The amendment Bill:
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.
Threat of such stringent penalties would deter even genuine whistle-blowers.
The basic purpose of the WBP Act is to encourage people to report wrongdoing.
If whistle-blowers are prosecuted for disclosing information as part of their complaints and not granted immunity from the OSA, the very purpose of the law would be defeated.
Further, to ostensibly bring the WBP Act in line with the RTI Act, the amendment Bill says that 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, and information held in a fiduciary capacity.
These exemptions have been modelled on Section 8(1) of the RTI law which lists information which cannot be disclosed to citizens.
RTI & WBP Act :
The amendments ignore the fact that the two laws have completely different objectives. The RTI Act seeks to provide information to people, while the WBP Act provides a mechanism for disclosures to be made to competent authorities within the government to enable inquiry into allegations of corruption and provide protection to whistle-blowers.
Conflating the two laws is inappropriate and would preclude genuine whistle-blowing in several scenarios.
There is no justification for not operationalising the WBP Act. It is the moral obligation of the government to immediately promulgate the rules and implement the law to offer protection to those who, at great peril, expose wrongdoing.