A call to strengthen Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill, 2010

“If such an Act was present back then my brother would be standing here today giving you the merits of the Act,” said Dhananjay Dubey, brother of slain engineer Satyendra Dubey, speaking at a Jan Manch on the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill in New Delhi on Monday.

He recalled how his brother, a deputy general manager with the National Highways Authority of India, was murdered for raising his voice against corruption in awarding road building contracts.

The objective of the Jan Manch, organised by the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Inclusive Media for Change, Foundation for Media Professional and Accountability Initiative, was to carry out discussions to strengthen the Whistleblowers’ (Protection in Public Interest Disclosures) Bill, 2010, so as to protect those who speak up against wrong doings.

“The law should be on the side of whistleblowers so they can be protected,” said Vinod Mehta, former Editor-in-Chief of Outlook, adding that there is a sense of fear against speaking up. “Make the whistleblower a hero. The law should protect him and so should public opinion,” said Mr. Mehta highlighting the contribution of whistleblowers to media. “If it wasn’t for whistleblowers, journalism would have shut shop long back.”

Senior journalist Aniruddha Bahal talked about the importance of protecting sources and about “malicious prosecution” of journalists doing controversial stories. “It should not be deemed a violation of the Act if the whistleblower shares the information with the media,” he said, adding that whistleblowers should use the available digital technology to the fullest.

The Whistleblower Protection Bill as introduced in the Rajya Sabha in May this year defines a whistleblower as “any individual making public interest disclosure” and states that the designated authority shall not entertain any anonymous complaints of any manner. However, critics say that the Bill will benefit from a clearer definition of a whistleblower, anonymous complaints can be scrutinised and stringent punishment for false complaints will discourage potential whistleblowers to come forward and make disclosures.

Journalist Sukumar Muralidharan pointed at a few lacunae in the Bill. “The first is regarding the sanctions against false complaints. These complaints could be made in good faith but with poor information. Second, there is no punishment for not acting on a complaint,” he said. He also highlighted the importance of giving the complainant the option of going to the media with the information. “Certain provisions can be built in,” suggested Mr. Muralidharan.

Protection extended to family members of the whistleblower and to those who become witnesses in the case was also discussed. The NCPRI also suggested that the Bill be expanded to cover the private sector, especially agencies that enter into contracts with public authorities and public private partnerships. The shortcomings of the Grievance Redress Bill, 2011, were also discussed.

More In: Delhi