Playing truth and dare with nation
The government’s decision to amend the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act and keep issues concerning ‘national security’ out of its purview is really a double-edged sword. While the Act itself, passed this February at the fag end of 15th Lok Sabha, has the intention of providing ‘adequate protection to persons reporting corruption or willful misuse of discretion [causing] demonstrable loss to the government or commission of a criminal offence by a public servant,’ it also looks to ensure penalties for those making fraudulent complaints.
The latter clause is particularly important in the light of giving out or leaking confidential information that might have security consequences, but was not included in the Act that was passed in a hasty manner in the last Lok Sabha session. Although the former UPA government had agreed to bring in amendments in this regard, as demanded by the then opposition BJP, lack of sufficient time led it to get the bill passed with president’s nod and with the promise that ordinance route would be sought to tweak the law in the next Parliament session. Evidently, on this issue, there seems to be a consensus and otherwise hotly differing members of the house appear to agree that including the national security clause to the Act is a necessary step to avert serious security breach or disaster affecting peace, health and wealth of the nation.
However, an important caveat in the scheme of things that are about to unravel happens to be this: what defines the national security threat that would be kept out of the purview of the landmark Whistleblowers’ Protection Act? It should be clearly spelt out leaving no room for ambiguity or equivocation so that truth-tellers and brave officers, daring to take on their corrupt seniors, such highly-placed bureaucrats, ministers and others in the topmost echelons of power, are not snubbed or dismissed by mere legalese. Hence, what comprises a threat to national security and what are the issues that can escalate to be deemed a national security situation, must be as transparently and schematically enumerated so as to avoid any confusion in this regard. However, since no tabulation of conditions or scenarios can be comprehensive realistically speaking, whistleblowers must still enjoy refuge from potential abuse of this clause. There’s ample room in the Act to accommodate the amendment and still remain a robust legislation aimed at curbing corruption and bringing in a less tainted and less compromised system.