Whistleblowers suffer for want of a strong law to protect them

Whistleblowers suffer for want of a strong law to protect them

By KANISHKA SINGH | NEW DELHI | 9 January, 2016
Government officials who had acted as whistleblowers are facing retribution.
In the absence of a strong law to protect whistleblowers, government officials who acted as whistleblowers in various departments, are facing retribution. They are being threatened, forced to leave their jobs, prosecuted and left vulnerable to the ire of the people they identified as being guilty of committing the crimes.
“I found out that some MLAs in UP had petrol pumps in Lucknow, Kanpur, Meerut and other cities, and that they were selling smuggled petrol and diesel at those stations. Many political leaders in Lucknow had their hands dirty. I reported the matter to one of my seniors who told me to surrender the documents and photographs to him and forget the matter. That evening, some people entered my house and beat me up badly. I was left paralysed from the waist below. Thankfully, my wife was in her parents’ house at the time,” Govind Pandey, a former police officer in the UP police, told The Sunday Guardian. “Now, I am handicapped, but thankfully not abandoned by my family. I cannot work anymore. That night, I was tortured in ways I do not want to speak of,” Pandey added.
The Supreme Court recently told the Union government to bring more independent investigators onboard to strengthen the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), but the anti-corruption ombudsman admitted to have failed in tackling corruption in Central and state government offices. Several officials in different ministries have reported undue punishments for exposing corruption.
“I reported a lot of scams in the (Union) Finance Ministry last year. Enquiries were initiated against many of my seniors. But the reports were never submitted. There is a river of dirty money flowing under the tables. I was awarded compulsory retirement as a punishment. North Block is full of cheats who do not let honest officials work. I reported the matter to the vigilance department, but my cries fell on deaf ears. They are a toothless tiger. I was, in a way, kicked out only a few months before my retirement,” a retired IAS officer alleged to this newspaper.
His way of functioning had apparently upset his senior colleagues as he reported the wrongdoings of many of his senior colleagues within the administration. The fallout of flagging corruption, however, is not limited to transfers or forced retirements. The revenge mechanism is now allegedly taking a violent colour.
“My family is regularly harassed. We receive threatening phone calls. Other colleagues who supported me or knew me closely were transferred. I have changed my home twice after that and have not told anyone where we stay. Still, they have managed to find us out. This is the cost of honesty in our country. I was transferred several times in my career due to my honest ways of working, but never did policemen dare to come to my home and threaten me. After I retired, constables come to our house every evening and harass me, my wife, my granddaughter who is in school, and my son who was beaten up badly twice. My daughter-in-law, too, is being harassed,” a retired bureaucrat said.
In April last year, M.N. Vijayakumar, a principal secretary level officer in Karnataka, had protested against alleged corruption in the state government. But he was penalised with compulsory retirement for “indiscipline”, just three days before he was set to retire. Vijayakumar is a 1981-batch Karnataka cadre IAS officer and was last posted as OSD, Department of Personnel and Administrative reforms (departmental inquiry manual). He was denied his full retirement benefits.
The Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014 states: “A public servant or NGO, may make a public interest disclosure before a competent authority. This would apply, irrespective of the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.” It further adds that “upon receiving a disclosure, the competent authority is required to ascertain the identity of the complainant and conceal the identity of the complainant, unless the complainant has himself revealed his identity,” said Abhir Banerjee, a senior advocate.
“The Whistleblowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015 (which was introduced in Lok Sabha on 11 May 2015) bars public disclosure of almost any sort of government documents or official activity, unless it is allowed under RTI. It also does not allow right to secrecy for the whistleblower. The authorities are not able to protect whistleblowers when we have a law that allows concealing the whistleblower’s identity. If this bill is passed, this country is doomed. It will be like saving the criminal and punishing the victim. I don’t understand with what logic the Cabinet gave its approval to the amendments proposed in the bill,” Banerjee added.

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