Centre mulls changes in whistleblowers Bill

Joginder Singh
IPS (Retd.)
Former Director, CBI, India

Even as the Centre is set to junk most of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Whistleblowers Bill, the government has proposed that the penalty for frivolous or malafidecomplaints in the proposed Bill would be a jail term up to one year and/or a fine up to Rs 30,000. Also, the Centre says that it would be for the trial court to decide on the quantum of punishment.

Under the proposed Bill — the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010 — which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 26 last year, the punishment for malafide disclosure or making false or frivolous complaint is pegged at imprisonment for a maximum of two years and fine which may extend up to Rs 30,000.

The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) is learnt to have initiated inter-ministry consultations about some changes that it intends to make to the Bill.

Sources in the DoPT told The Indian Express that the government was of the view that they could not accept in toto the recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee — the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice — that ministers, members of the higher judiciary, regulatory authorities, armed forces and intelligence agencies be brought under the ambit of the proposed Bill.

The government is also of the opinion that anonymous complaints can’t be allowed to be filed and acted upon at any level since it would defeat the very purpose of the proposed law.

A senior DoPT official said since the higher judiciary would be monitored under the proposed Judges Accountability Bill and ministers would be within the ambit of the proposed Lokpal Bill, there was no need to include judges and ministers in the Whistleblowers Bill.

The DoPT is also mulling over changing the name of the proposed Bill from Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making theDisclosures Bill, 2010, to a more simplistic Whistleblowers Protection Bill.

The DoPT has also decided to hold wider consultations with the Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Secretariat — which oversees the working of the country’s external spy agency RAW — on therecommendation of the Standing Committee to include armed forces and intelligence agencies in the ambit of the proposed whistleblower protection law. It is also not averse to the idea of having a separate authority for the defence forces and intelligence agencies.

In its report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee had said there was no logic behind excluding the armed forces since they were under the Right to Information Act too.

It had also recommended a foolproof mechanism to protect the identity of the complainant or the whistleblower and also ensure that he was not victimised. For this, the panel wanted the DoPT to define ‘victimisation’ in the Bill. It also wanted that the burden to ensure that the complainant was not subjected to any form of victimisation should be on the organisation competent authority. The DoPT is now learnt to have decided that it could fix a time-frame for the competent authority to decide complaints of victimisation of the whistleblower.

The panel had also pointed out that the proposed Bill was silent on the issue of applicability of the proposed law in the states, suggesting that a mechanism be put in place for the proposed law to apply in respect of Centrally funded schemes in states.

It also favoured adoption of the Bill by the states. However, the DoPT is of the opinion that the Centre could only recommend to the states to adopt the law or legislate similar laws.