By Harshmeet Singh
In 2009, when DK Ravi’s parents heard the news that their son has cracked what many call ‘the toughest exam in the country’ with an all India rank of 34, they could hardly believe their ears. Little over 5 years down the line, another ‘unbelievable’ news regarding their son struck their ears. This time, they were told that their son has committed suicide by hanging himself to the ceiling fan.
The news of young IAS officer DK Ravi’s mysterious death in Bangalore is both, sad and depressing at the same time. As the news spread like wildfire, conspiracy theories of a foul play began surfacing from all quarters. In his tenure as the Deputy Commissioner of Kolar district in Karnataka, Ravi had earned the love of the locals owing to his honesty and integrity. His efforts to expose the sand mafia in the district were well known in the entire district and beyond. His 24×7 accessibility for the common man, random raids on sand mafia and on people with political connections made him a threat for many a people. His untimely transfer to Bangalore as Additional Commissioner of Commercial Taxes is traced to the pressure put by Sand mafia over the state Government. His transfer from Kolar saw unprecedented protests from the locals in the district, who were not willing to see their hero go away. And far away he went.
Ravi’s family has now revealed that he used to get threat calls from Dubai, but he never lost his sleep over them, which makes his alleged suicide all the more doubtful. The family has also refused to believe the theory that ‘extreme work pressure’ led to Ravi taking such a step. With the sand mafia angle looming large and the state’s Siddaramaiah Government already knee deep in corruption allegations, justice in this case seems far and away.
Unfortunately, DK Ravi’s case has a number of precedents in the country.
While working as a Marketing Manager in the Indian Oil Corporation, Manjunath had ordered the sealing of two petrol pumps in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri for selling adulterated fuel. He was on a surprise inspection to one of these petrol pumps when he was shot dead by the owner of the pump, Pawan Kumar Mittal. The accused were convicted and are currently serving a life sentence. Inspired by his courage, students from IIM established ‘The Manjunath Shanmugam Trust’ in his name. The trust currently operates a nationwide Right to Information Act Helpline with an aim of improving governance in the country.
Satyendra Dubey’s case was perhaps the most high profile whistleblower case in the country. An officer in the Indian Engineering Services, Dubey was murdered in Gaya in 2003 while he was exposing a major scandal in the government’s ambitious Golden Quadrilateral project. While working as project director at National Highway Authority of India, he found that Larsen and Toubro, the main contractor of the project, was subletting the work to smaller and cheaper firms who didn’t possess the required high end technology for the project.
After his seniors didn’t respond to his questions, he sent a letter directly to the Prime Minister saying “Though the NHAI is going for international competitive bidding to procure the most competent civil contractors for execution of its projects, when it comes to actual execution, it is found that most of the works, sometimes even up to 100 per cent are subcontracted to petty contractors incapable of executing such big projects. A dream project of unparalleled importance to the Nation but in reality a great loot of public money because of very poor implementation at every state. I have written all these in my individual capacity. However, I will keep on addressing these issues in my official capacity in the limited domain within the powers delegated to me”.
Despite his repeated requests about not disclosing his identity, his name came out in the open and he was cautioned by the NHAI for sending a letter directly to the PM.
His death led to strong protests all over the country and inside the Parliament. In 2010, three people were convicted by the Patna court for Dubey’s murder. Satyendra K Dubey Memorial Award was established after his death. Given to the IIT alumnus with highest professional integrity, this award has been awarded to Arvind Kejriwal as well.
An IPS officer of the 2009 batch, Kumar was killed after he exposed the mining mafia in the state of Madhya Pradesh. He was brutally run over by a tractor in Morena, Madhya Pradesh after he tried to stop the tractor which was carrying illegally mined stones. Anna Hazare, along with his team, staged a protest against the murder of Kumar.
In the same week as Kumar’s murder, another IPS officer in the Chambal region, Jaidevan was assaulted by the local liquor mafia. Though he managed to escape without serious injuries, the deteriorated law and order situation in Madhya Pradesh was for everyone to see.
Lalit Mehta paid the price for exposing multiple irregularities in the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). He was found murdered in Palamau, Jharkhand in 2008. The local police conveniently passed on the matter, saying that his murderers have been killed by the Naxals since they claimed that they will bring his perpetrators to the books. “Now there is nothing to enquire into the Lalit Mehta case,” is what Palamau SP Udayan Singh had to say.
Unfortunately, the list of courageous whistleblowers who lost their lives for doing their job with integrity is a never ending one. V Saseendran was found hanging in his house with his two children after he exposed financial irregularities worth Rs 400 crore in the company where he was working. It was found later that he was the prime witness in a number of cases involving political leaders of the state.
Laws for whistleblowers
It was only in 2011 that the Government felt the need to frame a law for the protection of whistleblowers in the country. Subsequently, the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2011 was passed by the Rajya Sabha in February 2014 and got the President’s nod in May 2014.
The Parliament, very conveniently, has excluded the politicians from the purview of this act. When was the last time that a scandal took place without a political hand in it? Unless the political nexus gives way to an honest bureaucracy, no act would be able to change the fortunes of whistleblowers in India.
The Modi Government has recently announced its intentions of bringing certain amendments in the Whistleblower Act to give more teeth to the CVC. Prioritizing this bill and making it more holistic would certainly help make India a safer country for whistleblowers and save the life of the next DK Ravi and Satyendra Dubey.