Rajya Sabha passes whistleblowers bill

Rajya Sabha passes whistleblowers bill
Fearing criticism by the Aam Aadmi Party, the BJP bailed out the UPA by not blocking passage of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill in the Rajya Sabha, as the legislation would otherwise have died a natural death since Parliament adjourned sine die on Friday.

The BJP intended to press for two amendments to the bill, which it ultimately did not, paving the way for its smooth passage. The bill seeks to provide “adequate protection to persons reporting corruption or wilful misuse of discretion which causes demonstrable loss to the government or commission of a criminal offence by a public servant.”

While the bill sets out the procedure to inquire into the disclosures and provides adequate safeguards against victimisation of the whistleblower, it also seeks to provide punishment for false or frivolous complaints.
Top BJP sources said, one of the two amendments Rajya Sabha leader of opposition Arun Jaitley had suggested to the government was barring whistleblowers from seeking information on national security, which the government agreed was necessary. But, UPA ministers Jairam Ramesh and V Narayanasamy, earlier in the day, had requested deputy leader of Rajya Sabha Ravishankar Prasad not to press for it during the bill’s debate in the upper house as an amended bill will have to be reverted to Lok Sabha for its nod, which was not feasible as Parliament’s concluding session was on Friday, ahead of fresh elections to the Lok Sabha.

BJP sources said the party’s top leaders were not inclined to allow the Congress to take political mileage for passing the anti-corruption legislation flagged by its vice-president Rahul Gandhi. But fear that the AAP might target it for scuttling the bill with an eye on the coming polls, the opposition leaders decided to go with the government on the condition that an ordinance is promulgated to stop whistleblowers from accessing information on matters of national security.    

In his reply, Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy said the legislation would supplement the RTI Act in checking corruption in the country. He said appropriate steps would be taken to address concerns of members within 10 days.

The bill was passed by Lok Sabha in 2011 and was taken up by the Upper House in 2012 for consideration. However, it could not be passed because of the death of Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh.

To a suggestion that even whistleblowers who have exposed  corrupt practices prior to the bill’s passage should be covered, Narayanasamy said under a resolution passed in 2004, the CVC was empowered to protect such whistleblowers.

The definition of ‘disclosure’ has also been amended to include wilful misuse of power or wilful misuse of discretion which leads to demonstrable loss to the government or demonstrable gain to the public servant or any third party. The definition of competent authority to which a complaint can be made has also been expanded

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