India: Commission seeks powers to stop victimisation of whistleblowers

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Press Trust Of India – July 25, 2010

NEW DELHI — The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) is seeking greater powers to ensure that individuals who expose corruption by government officials and departments are not victimised, hounded or harassed by the bureaucracy. The Commission says it needs "enforcement powers" to protect whistleblowers from harassment.

The CVC is a designated authority to receive complaints and to ensure adequate protection to the whistleblowers under the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection of Informers Resolution (PIDPI).

"One of the limitations faced by the Commission under the resolution is that the Commission has not been provided with enforcement powers nor has it been made mandatory for the administrative authorities to comply with CVC's directives to protect whistleblowers from harassment," Chief Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha told PTI in an interview.

"These limitations have constrained the effectiveness of the Whistleblower Resolution," he said.

Not surprisingly, whistleblowers attract the ire of the departments they expose. Sinha said that in the past the CVC had intervened in several cases to prevent "inconvenient transfer, denial of promotion or other forms of harassment to whistleblowers".

On being asked about the CVC's effectiveness in curbing corruption, he said, "The Central Vigilance Commission is only a recommendatory body which advises suitable disciplinary action against government officials. It is for the administrative authority to impose punishment effectively and promptly."

The CVC's concern for the well being of whistleblowers stems from the fact that many whistleblowers have in the recent past been harassed for exposing corruption. Some were even killed, the latest being Gujarat-based Right to Information (RTI) activist, Amit Jethwa, who had filed a PIL against illegal mining in Gir forest.

Jethwa was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen opposite Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad on July 20. Amit's father had allegedly blamed BJP MP from Jundagadh Dinu Solanki for his son's killing.

Also killed in Maharashtra a few months ago were RTI activists Satish Shetty and Datta Patil, who had accused politicians and bureaucrats of involvement in land scams and corruption.

An ongoing case being heard by the Punjab and Haryana high court relates to the police harassment of Samdeep Mohan Varghese, allegedly at the behest of a private company he had accused of illegal practices.

Sinha said that the "CVC is the authority to handle whistleblowers' complaints and provide protection to them. There is a special cell in the Commission to deal with such cases of harassment". But no enforcement powers.

Former Chief Justice of India R C Lahoti however blames the CVC's failure to protect whistleblowers on the "dysfunctional" attitude of senior officers of the CVC.

In a recent letter to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Justice Lahoti remarked that every whistleblower who risked his life to approach the CVC had "come to grief", even as the culprits roamed free.

But RTI activist and Magsaysay Awardee Arvind Kerjriwal agrees with Sinha on the need to arm the Central Vigilance Commission with more powers.

"The Commission needs to freed from government's control and turned into an independent body with all judicial and statutory powers to investigate and prosecute the guilty," Kejriwal said.

Original article on Hindustan Times website