Legal Article

Whistleblower in India: An Overview

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

Article

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Published on: 12 Aug, 2023

Whistleblowing refers to the act of exposing any kind of information or activity within an organization that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct. In India, whistleblowers have often played a crucial role in unveiling corruption, mismanagement, and other wrongdoings in both the public and private sectors. Recognizing the importance of whistleblowers and the potential risks they face, India has put legislative measures in place to protect them.

1. The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011:

The primary legislation concerning whistleblowers in India is the Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011. It provides a mechanism for individuals to report corruption or willful misuse of power by public servants.

Key Provisions of the Act:

  • Coverage: The Act provides protection to any person making a disclosure related to an act of corruption, misuse of power, or criminal offense by a public servant.
  • Authorities Concerned: A Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and State Vigilance Commissions have been designated to handle such disclosures.
  • Protection: The Act ensures that whistleblowers are protected against any form of victimization. However, it does not grant immunity to whistleblowers for their involvement in the wrongdoing they report.
  • Punishment for False Complaint: To prevent misuse of the Act, there’s a provision to penalize individuals making false or frivolous complaints.

2. Challenges & Criticisms:

  • Lack of Protection for Private Sector Whistleblowers: The 2011 Act covers only public sector employees, leaving private sector whistleblowers vulnerable.
  • Exclusion of Certain Categories: The Act excludes certain categories of officials, such as the armed forces, from its purview.
  • No Anonymous Complaints: The Act doesn’t allow anonymous complaints, which could deter potential whistleblowers.
  • Amendments: The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015, proposed several changes, including the removal of immunity from prosecution for whistleblowers and the addition of grounds under which disclosures cannot be made. Critics argue these amendments could weaken the original Act.

3. Notable Whistleblower Cases in India:

Several whistleblowers have made headlines in India:

  • Satyendra Dubey: An engineer in the National Highways Authority of India, Dubey exposed corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project. Tragically, he was murdered, which highlighted the acute risks whistleblowers face in India.
  • Ashok Khemka: An IAS officer, Khemka faced multiple transfers after exposing irregularities in land deals in Haryana.

4. The Way Forward:

There’s a growing consensus that India needs stronger whistleblower protection, especially considering the potential risks:

  • Expand the Scope: Protection mechanisms should be extended to private-sector employees.
  • Strengthen Protection: More stringent protection measures, possibly including relocation and identity protection, could be considered.
  • Promote Awareness: Many potential whistleblowers might not be aware of the protections available. Increasing awareness can encourage more individuals to come forward.

Conclusion:

Whistleblowers play a pivotal role in maintaining transparency, integrity, and accountability. For them to effectively act as checks against corruption and mismanagement, they need robust protection. While India has taken steps in this direction, there’s still a significant scope for bolstering these measures and ensuring a safer environment for whistleblowers.