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WikiLeaks and the tough road for whistleblowers everywhere

WikiLeaks and the fate of its whistleblower, Julian Assange, raise world-wide protest Photograph: (Others)

Others Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Oct 24, 2016, 10.27 AM (IST)

The snapping of Julian Assange’s Internet access is the victory of the Obama administration over Ecuadorians. The restriction on Assange would mean that he will not be able to spill any more information that can hurt the US election. It comes at a time when Ecuador is seeing an opportunity to mend its relationship with the Americans post the US presidential election. It also comes at a time when the US requested Ecuadorians not to interfere in the affairs of the US by putting out the leaks and violating the free election process.

Whistle-blowers aren’t protected anywhere. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are cases in point where corrupt systems will not let whistle-blowers rear their head. If the leak is too big then their life is at risk and before it comes out they will possibly be knocked out. If it ain’t big, they get victimised. India is also home to victimisation of whistle-blowers, whether it’s corporate or government. For instance, Dinesh Thakur highlighted the issues of fraudulent practices in Ranbaxy concerning drug development, manufacturing, and testing data.

In 2005, Thakur was compelled to resign after exposing the fraud internally. But, later he worked closely with the US Food and Drug Administration and exposed the company. Ranbaxy was fined to the tune of US $500 million. He was able to achieve this only because he took the protection of the US whistle-blowers’ protection programme. Not everyone has this privilege. Shanmugam Manjunath was killed for exposing adulteration of fuel at few petrol stations in Uttar Pradesh. Satyendra Dubey exposed the corruption in the golden quadrilateral project of National Highway Authority and was later murdered in Gaya, Bihar.

In 2014, the amendments to the Whistleblowers Protection Act were passed in the Lok Sabha. However, little good may come out of this legislation. The Bill is still in pending in Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. If the amendments come into existence, the whistle-blower will not be able to disclose information protected under the Official Secrets Act and any information that the government is exempted from disclosing under the Right to Information Act. 

Under the new Bill, any disclosure that would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India as well as the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, including friendly relations with foreign states or lead to incitement to an offence are excluded. Intellectual property and trade secrets have also been protected. This means that whistle-blower will not be able to complain about corruption, violation of laws, abuse of power, and wasteful government expenditure if the complaint falls foul of these broad exemption categories. The original legislation was heavily problematic and the new one is not close to solving the issue either. India needs harsher punishments for those who are corrupt rather than silencing those who expose them.

According to an affidavit signed in the Supreme Court, between January 2007 and December 2012, the conviction rate of central vigilance office was only 7.3 per cent. Also, the “recommended” punishments were “minor penalties” like “withholding promotions and increments”. If the fear of the system has to be put in place, then the punishment has to be stronger. The challenge in India is corruption. India stands at the 76th place is the corruption perception index. The second most populous country in the world needs to show a far higher degree of honesty and transparency for it to be able to advance towards the path of nationhood.

 

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