Sunday, 30 January 2022

Protection of Whistleblowers

 Protection of Whistle-blowers in India 

By Shreya Verma

Who is a whistleblower?

The term whistle-blower originated in 19th century and refers to a person issuing the alert by the blowing of the whistle. A whistleblower is a person, who could be an employee of a company, or a government agency, disclosing information to the public or some higher authority about any wrongdoing, which could be in the form of fraud, corruption, etc. He could be anyone who has and reports insider knowledge of illegal activities occurring in an organization.  Whistleblowers generally state that such actions are motivated by a commitment to the public interest.

There are two types of whistleblowers: 

  1. Internal Whistleblower- Internal whistleblowers are those who report the misconduct, fraud, or indiscipline to senior officers of the organisation such as Head Human Resource or CEO. It is an act of reporting an offence within an organisation. For this purpose, certain organisations set up whistle blowing channels so that employees and other stakeholders can speak up if they become aware of misconduct.

  2. External Whistleblower- External whistleblowing is a term used when whistleblowers report the wrongdoings to people outside the organisation such as the media, higher government officials, or police. Such complaints focus on conduct prohibited by a specific law such as a criminal offence, discrimination or evidence of a cover up.

Role of whistleblowers towards society:

  1. Whistleblowing as recognized by many countries, is useful as it helps in reducing corruption and other malpractices and helps improving integrity.

  2. Act of whistleblowing ensures that organisations are smoothly functioning by reporting any irregularities.

  3. Whistle blowers acts as a watchdog over governmental and private organisations and makes society aware about any misconducts.

  4. Whistleblowing International Network, sees the act of whistleblowing as, “an antidote to secrecy imposed by governments on the grounds of national security, and by the private sector on the basis of their economic interests.”   

Why is it required to protect whisleblowers?

The case of Satyendra Dubey, an IIT Kanpur graduate who was the project director the construction of the golden quadrilateral project in the Koderma division of Jharkhand. He was suspended for exposing three of his contractors who were mishandling the project funds. Consequently, he wrote to the National highway authority of India (NHAI) and to the prime minister’s office (PMO) describing the financial irregularities in the project. On November 26, 2003 Dubey was found dead near AP colony in Gaya. 

Lalit Mehta, an engineer by profession undertook a social audit of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (MNREGS) with the help of economists and found out certain corruption in the operations of the scheme. On May 15, 2008, He was murdered,  before he could unearth the whole scam. 

These are some of many instances which shows how vulnerable these whistleblowers are and how are they constantly threatened by the scamsters and offenders, they intend to expose. Whistleblowers are needed protected from retaliation of exposing the evils in society that sometimes involve big-shots. This protection includes prohibiting the accused from taking adverse or harmful actions against the whistleblower. The whistleblower protection also covers prohibitions against the company pursuing legal action against the whistleblower to recoup losses incurred during the investigation or imposed penalties.

The whistleblowers risk their career, livelihood and sometimes their personal safety to expose wrongdoing that threatens the public interest. They may be fired, sued, blacklisted, arrested, threatened or, in extreme cases, assaulted or killed. Protecting whistleblowers from unfair treatment, including retaliation, discrimination or disadvantage, can embolden people to report wrongdoing and increase the likelihood that wrongdoing is uncovered and penalised. This is the reason as many of the nations around Globe have laws for protection of whistleblowers. In 2016 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in its report, “Whistleblower protection is the ultimate line of defense for safeguarding the public interest. ”United Nations too in this regard adopted the Convention Against Corruption. This Convention was signed by 140 nations and formally ratified, accepted, approved, or acceded by 137 nations, including the United States.

Indian Laws in regard: The Whistleblowers Protection Act, 2011:

The Act came into force on May 2014 with an aim to establish a mechanism for receiving complaints relating to:

  • disclosure on any allegation of corruption;  

  • wilful misuse of power;

  •  wilful misuse of discretion against any public servant;

  • to inquire or cause an inquiry into such disclosure; and

  • to provide adequate safeguards against victimisation of the person making such complaint.

Provisions under the Act:

  • It empowers any public servant or any other person including any non-governmental organisation, to make a public interest disclosure before the Competent Authority.

  • Establishment of a competent authority for making an inquiry relating to such disclosure.

  • Protection of person making disclosures from victimization.

  • Protection of identity of complainant and penalising the one who negligently or malafidely reveals the identity of a complainant.

  • It makes provisions for punishment for false or frivolous disclosures made malafidely or knowingly to cause vexation, annoyance or out of personal enmity.   

  • It also makes provisions for reporting crimes and appeal before high court.

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