By: Surbhi Tandon & Udita Singh (CCS Interns)
John Adams (1735–1826), American statesman and political theorist, once said “Fear is the foundation of most governments”. The Whistleblowers Bill strikes precisely at the foundation of the government of India! In August 2010 the Union Cabinet cleared the Whistle Blowers Bill, yesterday a parliamentary panel lead by Jayanti Natarajan recommended that the bill include ministers, higher judiciary, security organizations, and corporate sector. While the case for including government functionaries and arms of the state is a welcome move, there ought to be some debate around the question of whether and when the private sector should be brought under the purview of the bill.
The Whistleblowers Bill movement gathered storm in 2003 after the assignation of Satyendra Dubey – a project director at the National Highways Authority of India – who highlighted corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral Project. On 2 March 2011 Niyamat Ansari – an NREGA and RTI activist – was killed for highlighting corruption in the NRGEA scheme. The Bill essentially envisages protecting people like Satyendra and Niyamat by giving “the Central Vigilance Commission powers of a civil court to hand down harsh penalty to people revealing identity of whistleblowers”.
The Natarajan Panel recommends scrapping the proposed “five year jail term for frivolous complaints” and replacing it with a fine. This makes sense. But should the bill cover the private sector.
“The whistleblower laws of Ghana, New Zealand, Norway, Uganda, and the UK protect whistleblower in the private sector as well. In South Africa, both the special law on whistleblowing and the Companies Act of 2008 facilitate private sector whistleblowing and provide protection for such actions. In the USA special laws have been passed to protect whistleblowers in the private sector” (Venkatesh Naik).
In India corruption often takes the form of collusion between government and large business houses, protecting private sector whistleblowers might help dent such graft. But there are risk-factors too. India has many archaic laws and a whole structure of regulations which are far from and inconsistent with economic realities. This means that doing business in India by necessity requires breaking laws and greasing palms. Covering the private sector under whistleblowers bill under such circumstances may bring a whole flurry of cases, making doing business in India even more difficult. Therefore, while it is desirable to protect private sector whistleblower, economic deregulation must come first so that we have a system of laws consistent with our economic realities and conducive to economic growth.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.