Right to Information & Protection for Whistleblowers

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    In Context

    • Recently, it was noted that since the implementation of the Right to Information Act (RTI), some 100 RTI activists across the country have been killed and several are harassed on a daily basis.

    Issue

    • Bihar is turning out to be one of the most dangerous States for RTI activists despite being one of the earliest promoters of the law. 
      • The State ranks first in the number of deaths of RTI users.
    • The killing of RTI users and the intimidation of their families as they struggle for justice, in Bihar and other parts of the country, are reflective of the: Lack of action by the government and the Collusion of the police with powerful vested interests.

    Whistleblowers and RTI

    • Whistleblowing: 
      • The term is used to describe conduct in which a person uncovers the details which are considered to be unlawful, immoral, or misconduct either to the public or within an organization.
    • The Right to Information (RTI):
      • It is provided by the Right To Information Act, 2005, it has been an important weapon for whistleblowers in previous years.
      • The RTI Act, of 2005 is also called a ‘twin sister’ of whistleblowing.
    • Significance:
      • Collection of data:
        • RTI helps whistleblowers in collecting relevant data about any unlawful or immoral conduct and making it available to the general public. 
      • Fraudulent practices in the system:
        • The whistleblowers are capable of bringing to attention the administration’s fraudulent practices, using RTI as a weapon. 
      • Transparency:
        • Many of the whistleblowers are RTI activists whose goal is to bring transparency to the system. 
        • Such information could be used appropriately to bring social awareness about the work of authorities and can also be viewed as a function of redress for the individuals.
    • Challenges:
      • Lack of security:
        • Such activists have encountered the impact of lack of security with the number of deaths of RTI Activists rising over the last decade.
      • Unavailability of information:
        • Many people face a number of issues while finding information. 
      • Lack of privacy:
        • One of the important reasons for these issues is that while the RTI is available to all, the whistle-blowers and information finders lack privacy. 
        • Numerous times they are bullied or perhaps even fatally attacked by people because the information they are looking for can cause distress to the officials they are inquiring about. 
      • Ineffectiveness of Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014:
        • According to the Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2014, it is the responsibility of the government to determine that whistleblowers are shielded against victimization and hide their identity, but this act has still not been effective so far.

    Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014

    • Objective:
      • The Act seeks to protect whistleblowers, i.e. persons making a public interest disclosure related to an act of corruption, misuse of power, or criminal offense by a public servant.
    • Role of Central & State Vigilance Commission:
      • Any public servant or any other person including a non-governmental organization may make such a disclosure to the Central or State Vigilance Commission.
    • Identity of the complainant and its disclosure:
      • Every complaint has to include the identity of the complainant.
      • The Vigilance Commission shall not disclose the identity of the complainant except to the head of the department if deemed necessary. 
        • The Act penalizes any person who has disclosed the identity of the complainant.
    • False complaints:
      • The Act prescribes penalties for knowingly making false complaints.
    • 2015 Amendment to the Whistle Blowers Protection Act:
      • The Act now prohibits the reporting of a corruption-related disclosure if it falls under any 10 categories of information given by the amendment.
        • These categories broadly include information related to: 
          • Economic, scientific interests and the security of India; 
          • Cabinet proceedings, 
          • Intellectual property; 
          • That received in a fiduciary capacity, etc.

    Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005

    • Objective:
      • The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities. 
    • About:
      • Public Authorities need to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning. It includes
        • Disclosure of their organisation, functions, and structure,
        • Powers and duties of its officers and employees, and
        • Financial information.
      • The act, in general, promotes pro-active and suo-moto disclosure of information by governments.
    • ‘Public Authorities:
      • It includes bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, or under any law or government notification
        • For instance, these include Ministries, public sector undertakings, and regulators
        • It also includes any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government.
    • Non-availability of information:
      • If any information is not available, citizens have the right to request it by a simple letter or email or through an online application for a nominal fee.

    Way Ahead

    • Whistleblowing is an act that requires massive strength and the safety of whistleblowers is of paramount importance.
    • State governments, such as those of Bihar and Maharashtra, which have recorded the highest number of murders of RTI activists, must introduce their own mechanisms for protecting whistleblowers by enacting at least a State-level whistleblower protection law. 
    • Ignoring the plight of RTI users facing death for keeping our democracy alive is a threat to democracy itself.

     

    Mains Practise Question 

    [Q] What are the major issues whistleblowers are facing in India. Critically analyze the WhistleBlowers Protection Act, 2014 in tackling corruption.