August 3rd, 2015
It has been a trend in our country that whenever a scam is unearthed and CBI probe initiated, witnesses related to the scam start “mysteriously” disappearing or dying. The latest instance is that of Vyapam Scam in which 49 deaths have been notified so far due to reasons as varied as road accidents, over-drinking, medical causes. We know that these are nothing but a hogwash which cannot fool the public. However, they do succeed in intimidating them so that the masses do not want to get entangled in such life threatening circumstances.
The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill has been languishing in the Parliament since 2011. The latest amendments proposed to be included in the Bill would make it a toothless bulldog, if ratified. The whistle blower would not be allowed to reveal any documents classified under the Officials Secrets Act of 1923, apart from not disclosing any information that could prejudicially affect the interest of the sovereignty or security of the country, or its friendly relations with any foreign state. The information can be provided only if obtained through a Right to Information query. If these conditions are not met, then not only will the whistle blower not gain any state security but also may face action, with the final say residing in the central or state governments.
In stark contrast to this, Delhi has become the first state in the country to roll out the Delhi Witness Protection Scheme, 2015, on Thursday, following High Court’s order in Jessica Lal and Nitish Katara murder cases, 2013. We are enumerating here the provisions of the scheme for the benefit of our readers:
- Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA) is to be the competent authority for implementation of the scheme.
- The witness has to apply for protection following which DSLSA will seek a threat analysis report from Delhi Police.
- An ACP/DCP level officer of the district investigating the case to prepare the report which is to be submitted within five days.
- Three categories of witnesses to be provided different kinds of protection depending on the threat perception.
- Category A – If there is a threat to life and it affects the day-to-day activities of a witness for a substantial period during the investigation or even after that.
- Category B – When the threat extends to safety, reputation or property of the witness or his or her family members, during the period of investigation and/or trial.
- Category C – Where the threat is moderate and extends to harassment and intimidation of the witness and his or her family members during the investigation process.
- 15 ways of providing protection have been identified ranging from monitoring calls and emails, installing CCTV camera in the home of the witness, changing his or her name to conceal identity, temporary change of residence, in camera trials and faster recording of statements.
- The orders to be executed by the divisional commissioner.
- Mandatory for the investigating officer and court to inform all witnesses about the existence of such provisions.
- Witnesses to be granted financial aid from a witness protection fund.
- Budgetary provisions to be made in the annual state budget for implementation of the scheme.
- The witness protection fund also to make use of donations / contributions made by national / international philanthropists / charitable organizations.
- Fines received under IPC 357 to be deposited in the fund.
This is the first scheme of its kind in the country, making it a watershed in the procedure of providing protection to the witnesses. We wish that the other states and central government in the country would follow suit and pass similar schemes. This would be the single-most important step in ensuring the life and liberty of the whistle blowers, who expose themselves to grave danger by standing as witness in various cases of crime and corruption.