Ever since former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju blew the whistle on shady goings on in the judiciary, we have realised the glaring lack of rules and procedures in the whistle-blowing business. His revelations have raised several vital questions. For example, take the all-important question of timing. When, after the alleged incident, should a whistle-blower blow his whistle? It makes no sense, of course, to tell all 10 years after the event, as many eminent personalities have pointed out. To take an example, does anybody bother about 10-year-old murders? The debate about timing continues, though. At one extreme are those who favour instant complaints. ‘In my opinion, the damn informer can be given a maximum of 30 seconds to snitch on his colleagues,’ said a chap who claimed to be an honest lawyer. Others are generous, giving him three months. ‘The tattle-tale must be allowed some time to make up his mind, if he has one,’ sniggered a liberal soul.
The next important question is: who should do the whistle-blowing? Newspaper reports have pointed to Katju’s frequent references to Alice in Wonderland in his blog, the underlying message being it would be unwise to trust a person who reads Lewis Carroll. Imagine a scene in which such a reader is on the witness stand.
‘Tell us, Mr Whistle-blower, what you witnessed on the day of this nefarious deed,’ says the advocate. And the witness replies, following the immortal words of Lewis Carroll, ‘I thought I saw a banker’s clerk/Descending from the bus/I looked again and found it was/A hippopotamus.’ That wouldn’t do, you know. He would be a most unreliable witness. Whistle-blowers must not be people who read Lewis Carroll, or Edward Lear, or Ogden Nash, or Sukumar Ray, to name just a few mad writers.
Then there’s the issue of height. A former chief justice has said he would not ‘stoop to anyone’s level’. The obvious implication is a whistle-blower should be tall, so nobody has to stoop while talking to him. ‘Any stool pigeon who wants to rock the boat should be at least six feet tall,’ said an expert in mixed metaphors. A debate rages in judicial circles on this legal point.
Whistle-blowers also need to be better than their grandfathers. A former law minister is reported to have said that while he was a great admirer of Kailash Nath Katju, Markandey Katju’s granddad, he thought Markandey was unlike other members of his illustrious family. The inference is clear — unless you’re as distinguished as your grandfather or other members of your family, you can’t be a whistle-blower.
Judicial whistle-blowers also have to be extra careful. The Congress has said Katju has insulted the collegium, others believe he has damaged the judiciary, while some say they are ‘upset and distressed’. Many have called him publicity-hungry. You see, writing your grievances in a blog post is simply not done — you have to do it through proper channels, using A4 paper in triplicate, get it attested by a notary and deliver it in a sealed cover to the designated authority, preferably at midnight, to ensure no publicity. Anything else would be terribly upsetting.
That is why, to ensure these rules are strictly followed, only those with a professional degree in the complicated art of whistle-blowing should be allowed to blow their whistles. That would be by far the best way to clean up the rot in the system.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal