SC must review whistleblower order

It is strange that the Supreme Court has asked the Centre for Public Litigation through its counsel Prashant Bhushan to reveal the identity of the source that provided the visitors’ diary at the residence of CBI director Ranjit Sinha, which it presented to the court some days ago.

Entries in the diary had shown that a number of persons whose actions the CBI was investigating in cases relating to the 2G spectrum and coalfield allocation scandals had visited Sinha a number of times in the last many months. The court had taken the matter seriously and asked for Sinha’s explanation. But the latest order goes against the principle of protection for whistleblowers which the court has itself considered very important. Bhushan’s stand before the Supreme Court that he cannot reveal the whistleblower’s name as he fears for the person’s life has put the court in a quandary.

A bill for protection of whistleblowers was passed by parliament last year but the rules to implement the law have not yet been framed. If these rules were in place the question of disclosure  of the name of the source of the diary may not have arisen at all. Therefore it is against the spirit of the law to demand that the name be revealed to the court. If the authenticity of the information is in doubt there are various ways to establish it. Knowing the name of the person who may have passed on the information to the Centre for Public Litigation does not help in any way to judge its genuineness. It should be noted that the identity of the informer was never made known in cases like the Watergate scandal.

It is the conduct of powerful persons, including the CBI director and his visitors, that is in question. It should also be noted that Sinha has not denied meeting many of the people whose names appear in the diary. Disclosure of the name of the whistleblower can even cause harm in many ways. Many people who have brought out in public interest information about corruption, wrongdoing or misconduct of officials or politicians have suffered for their well-intentioned actions. Some have even paid the price with their lives. It is to protect them and to advance public interest that the law was enacted. It in fact prescribes penalties in the form of fines and jail terms for those who reveal the identity of whistleblowers.  The court should review its order, which is clearly not well thought out and might set a bad precedent.

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