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Don’t take away safety nets

Don’t take away safety nets
The apex court on Monday asked Prashant Bhushan to reveal the name of the whistleblower in a sealed envelope in the guest gate scam. The court asked the activist lawyer to provide the name of the whistleblower that had provided with the guest register at the residence of Central Bureau of Investigation chief Ranjit Sinha. The list of the guest visiting the CBI director’s residence included the name of the accused in both 2G scam as well as Coalgate. The Supreme Court directions raised many eyebrows in the activist circle raising concern about the life and safety of the whistleblower.

There have been multiple instances of threatening, harassment and even murder of various whistleblowers. Satyendra Dubey had blown the whistle in a corruption case in the National Highways Authority of India’s Golden Quadrilateral project and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister Office under Vajpayee Government requesting not to reveal his identity. Incidentally the same letter was circulated to various departments without smacking his identity and whistleblower engineer was later murdered in November 2003.

Two years later, an Indian Oil Corporation officer, Shanmughan Manjunath, was murdered for sealing a petrol pump that was selling adulterated fuel. A Karnataka official SP Mahantesh, said to be a whistle-blower in controversial land allotments by societies was murdered in May 2012. Mahantesh was working as Deputy Director of the audit wing in the state’s Cooperative department and had reported irregularities in different societies involving some officials and political figures. A senior police officer alleged that Mayawati’s government was corrupt and had embezzled large amounts of money. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital.

The activists demanded that a law should be framed to protect the whistleblowers, to facilitate the disclosure of information and uncover corruption in government organizations. As a result, the Supreme Court, in April 2004, pressed the government into issuing an office order, the Public Interest Disclosures and Protection of Informers Resolution, 2004 designating CVC as the nodal agency. In March 2011, the Supreme Court refused to frame guidelines for protection of whistle blowers in the country, saying that it cannot make law. However, the court allowed the petitioners to approach the high court for protection of whistleblowers in a specific case. In August 2013, in Manjeet Singh Khera Vs State Of Maharashtra bench of Justice K S Radhakrishnan and Justice A K Sikri ruled that identity of whistleblower cannot be revealed to the accused facing prosecution under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

Situations are many where certain persons do not want to disclose the identity as well as the information/complaint passed on them to the Anti-Corruption Bureau. If the names of the persons, as well as the copy of the complaint sent by them are disclosed, that may cause embarrassment to them and sometimes threat to their life.

These activism resulted in the Parliamentarians enacting The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011 with the object of establishing a mechanism to receive complaints relating to disclosure on any allegation of corruption or willful misuse of power or willful misuse of discretion against any public servant and to inquire or cause an inquiry into such disclosure and to provide adequate safeguards against victimisation of the person making such complaint and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto. By way of this act it was felt that the persons who report the corruption or willful misuse of power or willful misuse of discretion which cause demonstrable loss to the Government or commission of a criminal offence by a public servant need statutory protection.

The Act was approved by the Cabinet of India as part of a drive to eliminate corruption in the country’s bureaucracy and passed by the Lok Sabha on 27 December 2011. The Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on 21 February 2014 and received the President’s assent on 9 May 2014 and unfortunately the Act has not come into force till now.

The allegations against Ranjit Sinha the CBI director perceived entertaining the 2G and Coalgate scam accused at his residence are extremely grave in nature. The integrity of the premier agency of the country is at stake and to restore the trust in the agency, the CBI director has to rise above suspicion and to come out in open and tell the truth not only to the court but to the people of this country. To hide behind legal jargons and make an attempt to beat the whistleblower with casting aspersions about the guest register and also creating doubt in the mind of the judiciary about the motive behind such snooping shall not help the cause. The CBI director shall have to bat on the front foot and come clean because the nation is keeping a close eye on every move he makes. He needs to explain the rationale behind meeting the accused at his residence and that too on several occasions.

The CBI  who was once termed as a ‘caged parrot’ and ‘it’s master’s voice’ by the Apex court in relation to its submission to the whims and fancies of the government. Now it appears that the parrot is out of the cage and hobnobbing and venturing in accused territories and it seems that the judicial wrath is coming its way.

The author is an advocate
Vikas Gupta

Vikas Gupta

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