There could not have been a more horrific reality check than to wake up in the patriotic glow of Republic Day and find that an honest officer had been burnt alive in Maharashtra after intercepting a petrol adulteration racket. Yashwant Sonawane, an additional district collector, was set ablaze by criminals in Nashik when he tried to prevent them from adulterating petrol during an unscheduled inspection. It took this ghastly murder for chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to order a statewide crackdown on the oil mafia. Sonawane's death is yet another in a line of officers murdered while trying to prevent corruption. Earlier, Indian Oil Corporation employee Manjunath Shanmugam paid with his life after he collected samples of adulterated petrol in Uttar Pradesh. Satyendra Dubey, an engineer and whistleblower in the case of irregularities in sub-contracting in the prestigious Golden Quadrilateral was murdered in Bihar.
The driving force behind such murders is the belief on the part of the perpetrators that they will be able to get off scot-free or with the minimal punishment. And they are not wrong since most of them have some form of political patronage. These officers, and many others like them, have paid such a huge price simply for doing their duty. That justice is rarely, if ever, done in such cases could actually be a deterrent to others like them who wish to implement the law in letter and spirit. The even more alarming aspect to this is that people will lose their faith in the justice system. A sign of this is the manner in which an allegedly mentally disturbed man attacked both SPS Rathore, the police officer accused in the Ruchika Girhotra case earlier and now
Dr Rajesh Talwar, father of murdered teenager Aarushi Talwar.
The fact that the deaths of upright officials has done nothing to curb the growth of mafias in almost all sectors suggests that those in power are not serious about tackling the issue of corruption even at the local level, leave alone the mega scams at the national level. The government has to afford protection to those who are at least trying to prevent corruption of essential commodities. Now and again, we hear grand words about zero-tolerance towards those engaging in corrupt practices. How hollow these are comes home when a decent man like Sonawane meets such a brutal end. It is heartening that we showcased our military might and economic prowess yesterday. But if we cannot protect the people who keep the wheels of governance moving, then our celebrations are a little misplaced.