The Bill to protect whistleblowers, introduced in the Lok Sabha, is a belated but welcome move to shield those who stand up, often at great personal risk, for the sake of truth and the public interest. The Public Interest Disclosures and the Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill 2010 is the circuitous and protracted outcome of the Supreme Court's strong pitch for a mechanism to protect whistleblowers. This it did while hearing a public interest litigation on the murder of Satyendra Dubey, the Bihar-based engineer with the National Highways Authority of India who was killed for exposing irregularities in road contracts. The pressure applied by the Court led the central government, in early 2004, to issue an order authorising the Central Vigilance Commission to receive and act on the complaints of whistleblowers and to protect their identities. This interim arrangement is finally set to become law, after a Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2006 was allowed to lapse. Like other whistleblower laws around the world, the proposed legislation has two main aims: to protect the identity of those who call attention to corruption and misuse of power in an organisation, and to safeguard them against punitive disciplinary action. It empowers the CVC, which will have the powers of a civil court, to punish those who reveal the identity of whistleblowers.

The Bill, criticised for having been introduced in Parliament without a proper consultative process with stakeholders and the public, does not go far enough. While the whistle may be blown on malpractices committed by employees of the central and State governments, and companies and societies controlled by them, the Bill (unlike its predecessor in 2006) does not extend confidential disclosures to the private sector as legislation in some other countries does. The United Kingdom's Public Disclosure Act 1988 extends “protected disclosures” to private and voluntary sector employees. In the United States, a slew of federal and state laws protect all employees who complain about economic malpractices as well as actions that affect the health and safety of individuals and the environment. Another drawback: while promising to protect the identity of whistleblowers, the Bill is vague about the measures needed to ensure this. Whether the new law will be much more effective than the existing government order in encouraging the public exposure of corruption and malpractice remains to be seen. But it is a step forward insofar as it stands up for acts of ethical resistance and for those courageous enough to risk paying a high personal price for speaking out.

Keywords: whistleblowers

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