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Need for protection

The Supreme Court on Wednesday set the Centre a one week time frame within which it can make the law to protect whistleblowers or make functional the administrative set-up for the purpose. During the hearing, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the Centre, urged that the matter be kept for hearing after three months, by when either the law will be passed or the administrative setup will be put in place. He went on to add that the bill has been passed in Lok Sabha and is pending in Rajya Sabha. But the bench reminded the Centre that the court had earlier directed it to set up administrative mechanism for whistleblowers’ protection, which must be complied with. “Till the time there is no law. You (Centre) create a mechanism for dealing with complaints of whistleblowers and their safety,” the court said. The court was hearing a PIL filed by an NGO -Parivartan-- seeking its direction for an effective whistleblowers’ protection programme. The petition was filed after Indian Engineering Service Officer Satyendra Dubey was killed after he exposed corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project in 2003. Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, said that the whistleblowers, exposing corruption in society, needed to be protected. Suffice to say, before the whistleblowers bill came into the picture, there was a sustained outrage and campaign after the deaths of Satyendra Dubey and Shanmugam Manjunath.  In 2003, Dubey, an Indian Engineering Services officer, had written to the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, exposing massive corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral project. Soon after this letter was written, he was shot dead on the streets of Gaya. In 2005, Manjunath (an Indian Oil Corporation officer) was killed after he sealed a petrol pump in Lakhimpur Kheri (UP) for selling adulterated petrol. Since 2007, more than 40 people have been murdered for accessing crucial official documents under the Right to Information. Activists constantly face threats and harassment. The nexus of corruption ties together businessmen, contractors, criminals, politicians, bureaucrats and even the judiciary. They all receive their share of kickbacks from public money and work to protect this nexus. An honest official, who wishes to expose this corruption, faces a possible backlash from such powers. And yet one scam after another has been exposed by brave officials and other whistleblowers, often at great risk to their lives. Far from considering the acts of these whistleblowers as epitomes of patriotism, our legislature has shown a remarkably lackadaisical attitude towards their protection. This is not surprising since those tasked with bringing this law, are from the very class that are beneficiaries of the nexus of corruption. On this front the Aam Aadmi Party government, last month, had passed the Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill through the State Assembly. To the uninitiated, the Jan Lokpal Bill also referred to as the Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill, is an anti-corruption legislation drafted and drawn up by civil society activists and party members seeking the appointment of an independent body to investigate corruption cases. Among other features, the Bill includes the much required legal right of protection to whistleblowers and witnesses.
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