NEW DELHI: The Lok Sabha today passed a bill to amend the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2011 amid resistance from the Opposition which sought that it be sent to the Standing Committee, with Congress and Left members staging a walk-out.
As opposition parties urged the minister to send the Whistleblowers Protection (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the parliamentary panel, Minister of State for Personnel and Training Jitendra Singh declined the demand saying it had already been sent to the committee once earlier.
When Singh said that Congress President Sonia Gandhi had also spoken about the bill earlier, Gandhi interjected and said "we wanted a strong bill".
The Minister also sought to allay opposition apprehensions saying proper care has been taken to ensure the safety of the whistle blowers.
"Protection of the whistleblowers have been adequately done. Complainants' name will not be disclosed and secrecy will be ensured. The matter will be kept in sealed envelope which will be opened by two officers of the competent authority," Singh said.
Singh claimed that the identity of the whistle blower has been so safeguarded that it is "mandatory" even for the Prime Minister to take clearance from a competent authority.
Indicating that the bill may hit a road block in the Rajya Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said "we have already seen what happened to the Land Acquisition Bill and the GST Bill. To ensure the smooth passage of the bill, it should be sent to the Standing Committee," he said.
Later, members of opposition parties including Congress and Left walked out of the House as the bill was put up for voting.
The 2015 bill seeks to amend the Act with a view to incorporate necessary provisions to strengthen safeguards against disclosures which may prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country and security of the state, among other things.
The Minister said there were safeguards in the Bill to check frivolous complaints or mischief as well action against those troubling the whisteblowers.
He said that provisions for a fine of Rs 30,000 and imprisonment of minimum three months to check frivolous complaints find a place in the bill.
Earlier participating in the debate, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Cong) accused the government of diluting the bill brought by the UPA in the garb" of national security.
In a similar vein, Saugata Roy (TMC) said the amendments seek to dilute the basic concept of protection of the whistle blower.
He sought to know from the government why it was in "so much hurry" to pass the amendments, which has taken out 10 items from the existing Act in the name of national security. "In the name of national interest, do not take away the rights of whistle blowers who are exposing the truth," he said.
B Mahtab (BJD) regretted that as per statistics as many as 30 whistle blowers have been killed between 2010-2014.
"There is a need to give protection to whistle blowers. Defining national interest as given in the amendments is a major issue. Do not dilute the very intent of the Act," he said.
The House witnessed protests from Congress members when Sanjay Jaiswal (BJP) quoted from the speech made by then minister V Narayanasamy in Rajya Sabha.
However, they were overruled by the Chair but an unparliamentary word used by Jaiswal was expunged.
The BJP member later said Narayanasamy had spoken "untruth" when he made a commitment in the Upper House that the government will accommodate amendments proposed by BJP, which was in opposition then, but failed to do so.
He urged the government to reconsider various provisions of the Bill, including imprisonment of the whistle blower if the complaint was found to be false.
Members including A Sampath (CPI-M) and Sushmita Dev (Cong) demanded that the Bill be referred to the parliamentary standing committee for in-depth deliberations.