Activists seek stronger whistleblower act

NCPRI, along with Inclusive Media for Change and Center for Media Studies have sought key changes in whistleblower protection act, including provisions for accountability and compensation for victims.

 
The groups demanded that the law be discussed and approved by Parliament in the budget session that has resumed today.
 
Activists also demanded that the definition of victimization should be broadened to include not just threat to physical life and liberty.
 
Here is the full statement by NCPRI:
 
NCPRI along with Inclusive Media for Change and Center for Media Studies organized a tribunal on whistleblowers to press for a strong whistleblower protection act to be passed in the current session of Parliament to provide protection to those who expose corruption and wrongdoing.
 
Whistleblowers and relatives of murdered whistleblowers from more than 15 states came to Delhi to narrate their stories of courage and persistence in the face of great adversity in front of a jury of Parveena Ahangar, Sankar Sen, Vrinda Grover, Wajahat Habibullah, Henry Tiphagne, Vipul Mudgul and Satyendra Mishra.
 
Family members of five murdered whistleblowers, Ram Thakur of Bihar, Satyendra Dubey who was killed in Bihar, Nandi Singh of Assam, Ram Bihar Singh of Bihar and Somu of Haryana testified and demanded accountability for the untenably high price they paid for exposing corruption and wrongdoing in the government. 
 
In a shocking testament to the prevailing atmosphere of impunity, in not a single instance have the perpetrators – both of original corruption and the subsequent murder – have been convicted and brought to account. Other whistleblowers spoke about the harassment and assaults when they exposed corruption PDS, NREGA, real estate, IAY and pensions and development works. Government employees, including Ashok Khemka too spoke of the harassment faced while performing their duty honestly.
 
Since the passage of the RTI Act, ordinary citizens have had unprecedented access to government records and have been exposing corruption and wrongdoing through information accessed under the RTI Act. This has challenged the popular conception of whistleblowers only as employees who expose wrongdoing in the place of their work. The public hearing saw broadly 4 categories of whistleblowers, each of which should be provided support and protected through various means.
 
The 4 categories of whistleblowers consisted of:
 
1.RTI users who access information in public interest. Most case studies show that a lot of information being asked  should have been proactively disclosed under Section 4
 
2.Employees of both private and public sector,  who have access to information by virtue of their position and who either complain or take action against corruption in the course of their work
 
3.Human rights defenders
 
4.Complainants – who complain against the non-delivery of legal entitlements and other obvious corruption/illegality
 
After hearing all the testimonies, the jury and MPs lauded the brave efforts of all the whistleblowers:
 
D Raja assured the gathering that he will vigorously take up the whistleblower bill to strengthen it and get it passed in the Parliament.
 
Sankar Sen underscored the need for compensation for victims since many whistleblowers and their families have suffered great loss.
 
Parveena Ahangar highlighted that these individual fights were not just against corruption or illegality, but a fight for people’s rights and raised a rallying cry to continue fighting.
 
Wajahat Habibullah spoke of the active involvement of people in shaping the Grievance Redress Bill, and urged them to continue to press for state accountability.
 
Vrinda Grover said that all the whistleblowers were exercising their citizenship rights, and are the true warriors of the country.
 
Henry Tiphagne stated that all whistleblowers fall squarely in the definition of human rights defenders and that were thus covered under all protections, national and international, available to human rights defenders.
 
The public hearing was attended by working committee members of the NCPRI from many states, as well as eminent persons such as Chief Information Commissioner, Satyendra Mishra, Annie Raja, Vipul Mudgul, Akhila Sivadas, Aruna Roy and others. Almost 100 residents and colleagues of recently murdered whistleblower Ram Kumar Thakur of Bihar came to demand accountability from the state and express solidarity with the struggles of all the other whistleblowers.
 
The following resolutions were unanimously passed:
 
Access to Information
 
1.Most of the cases presented related to information that should already have been put out in the public domain under Section 4 of the RTI Act which mandates proactive disclosure. Section 4 of the RTI Act must be immediately implemented
 
2.If a whistleblower is attacked in pursuit of some information, that information must be proactively made public
 
3.Panchayat information especially welfare programs such as NREGA, PDS and IAY must be painted on the walls
 
4.Since several people have been assaulted in the process of exposing corruption in NREGS, the rural development department should put in place mechanisms, similar to those in Rajasthan, which mandates that if any whistleblower is attacked in pursuit of information or while exposing corruption, then a special audit of all works in that Panchayat will be done by a special state government team. These provisions should be passed by GoI and made part of all departments and ministries
 
5.There should be no requirement to provide proof of citizenship/identity to request for information under the RTI Act
 
6.There should be free and open inspection of all information related to information that directly impacts the public
 
7.Complaints to information commissions about harassment/threats to people seeking information under the RTI act should be treated as matters relating to life ad liberty and should be heard in a time-bound manner
 
8.Land records must be digitized and put online. In the meanwhile there should be free and open inspection hours once a month
 
 Investigation
 
9.Investigative agency must be independent of the political executive whether it is under the Lokpal or CBI
 
10.CBI exemption from RTI must be immediately removed
 
11.Vigilance manuals of existing state vigilance departments, like that of CBI, must be made publicly debated and rationalized to ensure that they are in the public interest
 
Harassment
 
12.Counter cases (any case registered against the accused by the perpetrator/family/friend) will be monitored by the Competent Authority notified under this Act
 
13.In many instances, the police is complicit or is itself implicated. Police reforms are imperative
 
14.Compensation must be provided to whistleblowers who face grievious hurt or loss (economic or otherwise) as a result of their activism
 
NCPRI
 
1 Suggested amendments to the whistleblower bill in the Parliament are attached.
 
2.NCPRI will explore all avenues to pursue all cases presented in the Tribunal today so that justice in individual cases is delivered
 
3.Legislations on whistleblower protection bill, grievance redress and all other accountability laws must be immediately taken up by the parliament, discussed, appropriately amended and passed.