Murder brings whistle-blower bill back to life
quoting Inter Press Service, 11 Dec 2003)
A whistleblowers' bill, stalled in the Indian Parliament for two years, is being dusted off after the gruesome murder of an engineer who reported corruption in a $ 2 billion highway project to link the country's major metropolises.
Corruption and violent death are the daily fare of India's newspapers, but the Nov. 27 murder of Satyendra Dubey, a 31-year-old engineer with Prime Minister Atal Bihari's pet 'Golden Quadrilateral' project, has sparked a rare and concerted public outcry. On Wednesday, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) stepped in to ask concerned authorities why Dubey was not given sufficient protection after he complained in a letter to Vajpayee's office that his life was in danger because the secret complaint he made had become public and his identity was revealed. But the commission's intervention came only after stormy sessions in Parliament this week, in which opposition leaders demanded to know why the 'Public Interest Disclosure Bill' had been allowed to lie dormant for so long.
Observed Somanth Chatterjee, a lawyer and India's longest-serving parliamentarian: "The government had no hesitation passing the flawed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which was introduced around the same time as the whistleblowers' bill." Chatterjee and several other leading public figures are certain that had the bill been passed, it would have helped put the brakes on corruption and protect citizens concerned by the diversion of funds meant for public projects. "The shocking events concerning the murder of Dubey highlight the need for speedy enactment of a whistleblowers' law," said Soli Sorabjee, India's attorney general, who has a reputation for honesty.
"We have to give total protection to our whistleblowers. Otherwise there will be more Dubeys," said K. K. Venugopal, a Supreme Court lawyer acknowledged as the one of India's best legal brains. Concerned expatriates, many of them engineers like Dubey, have been writing in to the Prime Ministers' Office over the Internet, asking to know how they can help Dubey's family and protesting the murder.
The overwhelming public reaction elicited a response from Vajpayee, who declared in a statement that investigation of the murder in Gaya town in the eastern state of Bihar would be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the country's main investigating agency. "Like all right-thinking Indians, I am shocked and saddened by the murder of Satyendra Dubey, an upright and dedicated officer working with the National Highways Authority of India, who was killed recently in Gaya, Bihar," Vajpayee added.
Dubey, a graduate of the Kanpur campus of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, was shot dead apparently for disclosing the looting of public money in the execution of the Golden Quadrilateral project that he was tasked with monitoring. In his written complaint to Vajpayee's office a year ago, Dubey had complained that while the project involved international bidding, the actual work was being subcontracted to incompetent and dishonest contractors so that the "main contractors are working like commission agents". Dubey had charged in the letter that that the whole process was "known to all from top to bottom but everyone is maintaining a studied silence" and that "all these mouths have been shut by the big contractors". In spite of angry reactions from a public fed up with corruption, the government has so far not made any commitment about when the whistleblowers' bill would be brought up again.