Corruption in India is a major issue that is adversely affecting the growth of our economy and attainment of social objectives. Corruption also harms poverty-alleviation efforts. Recently, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has called corruption “a national economic terror” and called for stringent measures to control this social calamity. In 2015, India was ranked 85th out of 175 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The World Bank has earlier found corruption to be the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development. A report from international organizations, including the UN Global Compact, estimates that corruption adds as much as 10 percent to the total cost of doing business globally, and as much as 25 percent to the cost of procuring contracts in developing countries. A study conducted by Transparency International in year 2008 found that about 40% of Indians had firsthand experience of paying bribes or using a contact to get a job done in public office. In his foreword to the UN Convention against Corruption, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi K Annan said: “Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on society. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and it allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish. This evil phenomenon is found in all countries, big and small, rich and poor – but it is in the developing world that its effects are more destructive. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining the government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and the major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development”.
Globally, Whistleblowers have emerged as one of the most effective tools to fight corruption. Whistleblowers have intimate knowledge of the wrong doings/acts. Through their knowledge of the circumstances and individuals involved, whistleblowers can help the relevant authorities to identify possible fraud and other violations much earlier than might otherwise have been possible. The workload of law enforcement agencies can be significantly reduced and their performance enhanced if the information provided by the Whistleblowers is channelized effectively & constructively. Many countries across the world have therefore taken various steps for encouragement and protection of the Whistleblowers. Some countries like the USA even reward the Whistleblowers financially. The United States Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) is authorized by the Congress to provide monetary awards to eligible individuals who come forward with high-quality original information that leads to SEC enforcement action in which over $1,000,000 (Dollars One million) in sanctions is ordered. The range for awards is between 10% and 30% of the money collected.
Sadly, “Whistleblower” is still a dirty word in India. Those who muster enough courage to expose wrongdoings are either looked at with scorn or are subjected to various administrative harassments including but not limited to lower financial increments, denial of promotion, “punishment postings” and in the extreme cases even face termination of their services. In other cases, extraneous motives are attributed to them or threats of physical injury are issued. Various other measures are adopted to malign and break the resolve of the Whistleblowers.
Pursuant to the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed while hearing Writ Petition (C) No.539/2003 regarding Shri Satyendra Dubey, who had to pay for his life for exposing the scam in the “Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project, the Central Government vide.
Its notification dated April 21, 2004 authorised the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) as the designated Agency to, inter-alia, (a) investigate written complaints or disclosure on any allegation of corruption or of mis-use of office by any employee of the Central Government or of any corporation established by or under any Central Act, Government companies, societies or local authorities owned or controlled by the Central Government, (b) recommend appropriate action against the wrong doers, (d) recommend taking corrective measures to prevent recurrence of wrong doing in future and (d) ensure protection of the Whistle Blowers from administrative harassment and victimisation. Despite receiving a large number of complaints during the last decade, the track record of CVC is anything but satisfactory, let alone impressive: it rarely took any action for either conducting independent & effective investigations or for protection of the Whistle Blowers. Two main reasons could be attributed to the ineffectiveness of the CVC: (i) Merit was generally overlooked and “weak” appointments were made by the government, often driven by political considerations, and (ii) the CVC having no independent investigative machinery had to rely on the investigation and the reports of the Chief Vigilance Officers (CVO) who suffered from “conflict of interest” since very often the CVOs reported to the very same people who were sought to be investigated.
Precious little has since been done by the Government to encourage Whistleblowers and fight corruption. The Whistleblower protection Act, 2011 (Act) finally received the assent of the President of India on May 9th, 2014 but is yet to be notified and efforts are already under way to dilute it further. Even in its present form, the Act is a weak piece of legislation and suffers from a number of lacunae/defects some of which are:
i. Its scope is restricted to complaints against public servants only and private entities are outside its ambit,
ii. The Special Protection Group (SPG), Prime Minister, Chief Ministers of States, Judges of High Court & Supreme Court are not covered,
iii. The mechanism for investigation against a public servant by authorities such as the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) whose appointments are often driven by political considerations fails to inspire confidence,
iv. Whistleblowers hesitate to confide in public authorities for fear of disclosure of their identity and/or probable harassment. Despite various directives and assurances from the Hon’ble Supreme Court, Indians still avoid even rushing accident victims to the hospitals for fear of harassment !
Disillusioned by the inaction and lack of confidence in the public authorities, most whistle blowers chose to remain silent. A few started sending complaints to anti corruption campaign organisations or to public interest lawyers. To fill this void, address the limited efficacy of the Act and acting in public interest, some distinguished members of the Civil Society, having an impeccable track record of integrity, experience & accomplishments, have resolved to constitute a FORUM to provide a credible national platform to the Whistle Blowers to instil in them the necessary confidence to make disclosures without fear, arrange for their objective and impartial investigation and help to take such cases to their logical conclusions in a time bound manner. This is expected to go a long way in significant reduction, if not eradication, of corruption and will serve the larger public interest.
We the following citizens of India do hereby join hands and resolve to form an CITIZENS WHISTLE BLOWERS FORUM,< as a civil society initiative, to facilitate efforts to expose and reduce corruption from the society :
(1) Justice (retd.) A. P. Shah
(2) Admiral (retd.) L Ramdas
(3) Ms. Aruna Roy
(4) Mr. Wajahat Habibullah
(5) Mr. E A S Sarma
(6) Professor Jagdeep Chhokar
(7) Justice (retd.) N Santosh Hegde
(8) Mr. Prashant Bhushan
(A) Scope of the Forum
The Forum shall, amongst others, act:
1. To serve as a unique credible platform to provide the much needed confidence to the Whistle Blowers to expose, without fear, inter-alia, cases of corruption, commission of any criminal offence or wilful misuse of powers by any person/entity including but not limited to any public, private, political, judicial or constitutional entity which, prima-facie, causes loss to the public exchequer, results in human rights violations, endangers national security and/or sovereignty or is against the larger public interest.
2. To take suo moto notice of any cases of corruption and any other offences as stated in (1) above.
3. To scrutinise the cases referred to in (1) and (2) above with reference to the evidence furnished and with such further inquiry as considered feasible, evaluate the appropriate course of action which could include public exposure of any serious act of corruption/wrong doing, and strive for corrective action, in a time bound manner, including taking up the issue with the Authorities and Courts for investigation and/or prosecution .
4. To keep confidential the identity of the Whistle Blowers if so desired by them and provide legal or any other support to them, as deemed fit, for preventing their victimisation and harassment;
5. To co-ordinate & liaise with relevant authorities and contribute for enactment of effective laws and legislations for prevention of corruption and for protection of Whistle Blowers.
6. To make public such information, as deemed necessary;
7. To hold conferences, lectures, workshops and take such other actions, initiatives, measures etc as may be deemed necessary, from time to time to further the objectives of the forum.
(B) Organisational Structure & Meetings of the Forum
1. The Forum shall have a National Council (NC) which shall be the supreme body of the Forum.
2. All persons signatories to the Resolution for the constitution of this Forum shall be the permanent members of the NC unless they wish to resign at their own will/accord. Any vacancy so caused shall be filled up with the consent of the remaining members of the NC.
3. The NC shall elect a Chairman, a Vice Chairman, a Secretary and a Treasurer from amongst its members.
4. Meetings of the NC shall be presided over by the Chairman and in his absence, by the Vice Chairman. However in case both the Chairman and Vice Chairman are not present even after 15 minutes of the scheduled start of the meeting, the members present, subject to quorum being present, may elect one of themselves to be the Chairman of that particular meeting only.
5. All matters relating to the activities and functioning of the Forum shall require the approval of the NC.
6. The Quorum for the meetings of the NC shall be at least 3 members present in person including via means of video conferencing.
7. Notice of meetings of the NC will be given to all the members either by Post or at their registered e-mail IDs at least 3 days before the date of the scheduled meeting. To take care of exigencies, shorter notice will be considered valid if agreed to by all the members.
8. Members may vote either in person or through video conferencing or by means of e-mail from their registered IDs.
9. Decisions in the NC shall be taken by a vote of majority.
10. The NC may constitute sub-committees or designate any member to discharge such functions as may be specified by it.
11. The NC shall have full powers to make amendments to the Charter of the Forum.
12. The NC may amend/modify/frame detailed rules, from time to time, for its smooth working.
(C) Means of Financing:
The founder members of the forum may contribute, voluntarily, towards meeting the expenses of the Forum. External support can also be sought on case to case basis. The details of the Receipts & Payments of the Forum will be displayed on its website.
(D) Procedure for receiving and evaluating complaints:
The following broad procedure, which may be amended from time to time, will be followed:
1. Whistleblowers can send their complaints, in writing, to the Forum, either personally or by post/ e-mail, to any member of the Forum directly or send the same at the designated office of the Forum.
2. All complaints will be received in strict confidence and the identity of the Whistleblower will not be revealed without their prior approval.
3. Complaints received will be scrutinised by the Forum’s staff to, prima-facie, evaluate their veracity, merits, authenticity of evidence submitted etc.
4. Synopsis of the findings referred to in the preceding paragraph will be circulated in writing to all the members of the Forum.
5. At a meeting of the Forum convened and conducted in the manner laid down in the para (B) above, i.e., Organisational Structure & Meetings of the Forum , the members will decide on the future course of action to be taken on the complaint which may vary on case to case basis.
(E) Address, contact details of the Forum are as under:Office address: Citizens Whistle Blower Forum
Common Cause House,
5, Institutional Area, Nelson Mandela Marg,
New Delhi - 110070
The Office address, phone numbers, e-mail ID etc. of the Forum shall also be displayed on its website.