Activists have questioned the Narendra Modi government for not operationalising a law to protect whistleblowers in the past five years even as 18 people were killed last year alone while exposing corruption.
They have shot off a letter to Prime Minister Modi demanding that his government immediately ensure that appropriate steps are taken to operationalise the Whistle Blowers Protection Act and that they cannot hide behind the pending amendment bill not to implement it.
The Act, which provides for a statutory framework for concealing the identity of whistle-blowers and protecting them against victimisation, was passed by Parliament in 2014 at the fag end of UPA government but was not operationalised as the rules were not framed and the date of the Act coming into force was not notified.
According to the "deeply anguished" activists of the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), it was "most unfortunate" that the government has failed to implement the Act, which is an "integral part" of any effective anti-corruption framework.
Emphasising that the non-implementation of the law has significantly weakened the fight against corruption, they said the "failure" of the government to operationalise and implement the law has undermined the will of Parliament to provide statutory protection to whistle-blowers.
"In the last five years, scores of people have been killed and many more attacked and victimised for coming forward to report on corruption and wrongdoing. These people could have been afforded protection had the government implemented the law," said the letter signed by activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog and Pradip Pradhan.
The activists also claimed that the amendment bill introduced in Parliament in 2015 was an attempt to dilute several key provisions of the law.
The amendment bill, among other provisions, proposes removal of the clause that safeguards whistle-blowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for disclosing information as part of their complaint. "Threat of such stringent action would deter even bonafide whistleblowers and defeat the very purpose of the law, which is to encourage people to come forward and report wrongdoing," they said.
While the Lok Sabha passed the bill, it is held up in Rajya Sabha, where MPs demanded that the proposed legislation be referred to a Select Committee, and will now lapse with the dissolution of the Lower House of Parliament.
"The government has repeatedly cited the pendency of the proposed amendments as the reason for non-implementation of the Act. Proposed amendments to a law cannot be a justification for not implementing it," they said.
"Brutal attacks on whistle-blowers and RTI users in the country have highlighted the vulnerability of those who dare to show truth to power. It is the moral obligation of the state to protect these conscience keepers who, at great risk, expose corruption and wrongdoing in the system," the letter said.