TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Statutory, regulatory and various quasi?judicial bodies
Protecting the Whistleblowers
More than 15 whistle-blowers have been murdered in India in the past three years. Parliament may have passed the Whistle Blowers Protection (WBP) Act in 2014, but this did not help save their lives as the government has doggedly refused to operationalise the law.
Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014:
- The Act aims to protect people who bring to the notice of the authorities concerned allegations of corruption, willful 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 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.
- 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.
- Most notably, the law affords protection against victimisation of the complainant or anyone who renders assistance in an inquiry. This is critical as whistle-blowers are routinely subjected to various forms of victimisation — suspensions, withholding of promotions, threats of violence and attacks.
- The law empowers the competent authorities to accord them protection, which includes police protection and penalising those who victimise them. Whistle-blowers Ram Thakur, Nandi Singh and Amit Jethwa were intimidated and sought police protection in vain, before they were murdered.
Whistleblower Amendment Bill:
- Instead of operationalising the WBP law, an amendment Bill, which fundamentally dilutes the law, was introduced in Parliament in 2015.
- Whistleblowers should not be allowed to reveal any documents classified under the Official Secrets Act of 1923, even if the purpose is to disclose acts of corruption, misuse of power or criminal activities. Further, it also puts a bar on disclosure of any information that could prejudicially affect the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign State. Offences under the OSA are punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years. Threat of such stringent penalties would deter even genuine whistle-blowers.
- Thus, the bill puts bars on the activity of whistle blowing in such a way that only some information obtained through RTI etc. has been kept in its ambit.
- The bill says that the whistleblowers would be entitled to official protection only if these conditions are met; and they could face action if they are not.
- 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.
- The amendments ignore the fact that the two laws (RTI and Whistleblowers Protection Act) 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.
- For instance, what about government officials who come across evidence of wrongdoing in the normal course of their work and do not need the RTI Act to access relevant information? Again, should complaints exposing corruption in nuclear facilities or sensitive army posts not be inquired into just because they contain information relating to national security? Surely the country would benefit if such wrongdoing is exposed so that appropriate action can be taken.
- 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.
- If the intention is 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 for such disclosures such as requiring complaints to be filed using sealed envelopes to the competent authorities.
- To reconsider amendments that would fundamentally dilute the law, and provide an opportunity for public consultation, it is imperative that the Bill be referred to a select committee of the Upper House.
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.
Connecting the dots:
- The Whistleblowers Amendment Bill introduced in 2015 in many was dilutes the 2014 law. Discuss.
- Corruption is a serious issue India is grappling with. Operationalization of the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014 can be a way forward. Discuss.
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Parliament and State Legislatures ? structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
Delimitation- Lifting the freeze in 2026
In a few years there is likely to be increase in number of seats in both Houses of Parliament after the lifting of the freeze imposed by the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976, which is due in 2026. This will raise issues with constitutional dimensions of far-reaching importance- How these additional seats will be allocated to the States, and how to address the concerns which necessitated the freezing of the allocation of seats on the basis of the 1971 Census figures.
- According to Article 81 of the Constitution — as it stood before the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 — the Lok Sabha was to comprise of not more than 550 members.
- Clause (2) of Article 81 provided that for the purposes of sub-clause (a) of clause (1), there shall be allotted to each State a number of seats in the House of the People in such manner that the ratio between that number and the population of the State is, so far as practicable, the same for all States.
- Further, clause (3) defined the expression “population” for the purposes of Article 81 to mean the population as ascertained at the last preceding Census of which the relevant figures have been published.
- As result of this mandate, States which took a lead in population control faced the prospect of their number of seats getting reduced and States which had higher population figures stood to gain by increase in the number of seats in Lok Sabha.
- To allay this apprehension, Section 15 of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 effected a freeze on the population figure with reference to the 1971 Census (which was 54.81 crore with a registered electorate of 27.4 crore) for the purposes of proviso to Article 81(3)(i) until the relevant figures for the first Census taken after the year 2000 have been published.
- Section 3 of the Constitution (Eighty-fourth Amendment), Act 2001 extended the deadline from 2000 to 2026.
According to the 2011 Census, the population of our country stands at 121 crore with a registered electorate of 83.41 crore. Basing the 1971 Census figure of 54.81 crore to represent today’s population presents a distorted version of our democratic polity and is contrary to what is mandated under Article 81 of the Constitution.
So when the first Census figure will be available after 2026 — that is, in 2031 — a fresh delimitation will have to done which will dramatically alter the present arrangement of seat allocation to the States in Parliament.
- The concerns expressed by the States in 1976 which necessitated the freezing of seat allocation on the basis of 1971 population figures would appear to hold good even today and have to be addressed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
- How the Presiding Officers of the Houses/Legislatures will deal with such a large number of members jostling with each other to capture the attention of the Speaker to raise issues in the House. Even with the current strength of 543 members, the Speaker finds it extremely difficult to conduct the proceedings of the House. The Speaker’s directions and rulings are not shown proper respect, and disruptions of proceedings aggravate the problem. The sudden increase in numbers will render the task of the Speaker more difficult and onerous.
- The Zero Hour, Question Hour and the raising matters of urgent public importance, which are warp and woof our democratic fabric, will be subjected to severe strain because the 60-odd minutes which are available in the morning before the normal legislative business of the House begins will require our Parliament and Legislatures to sit for a longer duration each day during the session as well as have more number of sittings in a year than at present.
While 2026 is still a few years away, if we do not start a debate now on how to deal with the problems that are likely to arise, we will be forced to postpone the lifting of the freeze to a future date as was done in 2001. This will only postpone the problem for which we must find a solution sooner or later.
Connecting the dots:
- Eighty fourth constitutional amendment Act, 2001 set the deadline for delimitation to be 2026. Lifting of the freeze on number of seats in 2026 will raise various issues. Discuss.
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