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RTI activists urge RS MPs to refer bill to select panel

New Delhi, July 17 (IANS) RTI activists on Monday wrote to several Rajya Sabha MPs to express concern about an amendment bill moved in Parliament by the Centre to “severely dilute” the whistle-blower protection law, instead of promulgating effective rules therein.

The activists stressed the need to refer the Whistle-Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill to a select committee of the upper house and also requested the lawmakers to urge the government to promulgate the rules to operationalise the existing Whistle-Blowers Protection Act.
The amendment bill is listed for discussion and passage in the Rajya Sabha for Tuesday. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 13, 2015.
“It is deeply concerning that instead of promulgating effective rules to operationalise the Whistle-Blowers Protection Act, which was passed by Parliament and received the President’s assent on May 9, 2014, the government has moved an amendment bill in Parliament which seeks to severely dilute the law,” read the letter.
The letter is signed by Right To Information activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Bhaskar Prabhu and Rakesh Reddy of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI).
“The amendment bill seeks to remove the clause which safeguards whistle-blowers from prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if they make a disclosure under the WBP Act. The bill also states that no disclosures should contain information which will prejudicially affect the sovereignty, integrity, security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State,” it added.
The letter says: “Further, information that relates to commercial confidence, competitive position of a third party etc. also cannot form part of the disclosure made by a whistle-blower, unless the information has been obtained under the Right To Information Act.”
“If the competent authority receives a disclosure containing information of the nature mentioned above, then the disclosure will not be inquired into and the person making such disclosure will also not be provided any protection under the Act.
“The amendments also state that no information on any of the abovementioned subjects will be provided during the course of inquiring into a disclosure, even if the disclosure itself did not contain any such information,” it added.
The activists said that the basic purpose of the WBP Act is to encourage people to come forward and report wrong doings in the form of corruption, misuse of power, and commission of a criminal offence.
“If whistle-blowers are prosecuted for disclosing information as part of their complaint and are not granted immunity from the OSA, the very purpose of the law will be defeated. Offences under the OSA are punishable with imprisonment of up to 14 years,” the letter said.
“Referring the amendment bill to the select committee will enable detailed clause-by-clause deliberations and also provide a chance to citizens to present their views on it,” the activists added.

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