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Whistling in the dark

india Updated: Jul 23, 2010 22:28 IST

Corruption, according to no less than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a speech last year, is tarnishing India's image, hurting its economic growth and squashing the government's efforts to build an equitable society. This ties in with the 'murder' of Gujarat's Right to Information (RTI) activist Amit Jethwa. Clearly, someone has an interest in throttling the voices of those who are brave enough to speak up against dishonesty at the highest level. Jethwa, according to reports, had filed several Right to Information (RTI) cases against the illegal mining lobby in the Gir lion sanctuary. This brought him into collision with his friend-turned-foe BJP MP, Dinu Solanki. Jethwa's father has accused Solanki of plotting his son's murder.

That RTI activists in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country are feeling the heat is well-known. At an activists' meet in Ahmedabad in March, many talked about getting death threats from corrupt politicians and government officials. An incident like Jethwa's murder, however, is not new to India. Remember National Highway Authority of India's Satyendra Dubey and Indian Oil Corporation's Manjunath Shanmugham? Both were killed because they stood up to corrupt officials and contractors. In recent months, activists Satish Shetty and Datta Patil, who exposed many land scams and corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in Maharashtra, were also murdered. After the death of Dubey and Manjunath, there was much soul-searching about how to p rotect the whistleblowers. The Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill, 2009, was drafted but it is not a law yet. As per the draft law, any person can make a complaint on corruption against any central government employee or institution to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The CVC will have the power to investigate and provide security to the whistleblower. Information activists also feel that a similar kind of provision could be weaved into the existing RTI law. The other important exercise could be to appoint an effective Lokayukta. Gujarat, like many other states, doesn't have one.

As India develops and people become more aware of their rights, there's bound to be a clash of interests. The people will use laws like the RTI to demand what's due to them and put pressure on the authorities to deliver. But the meaning of such positive developments will be lost if they are constantly exposed to the dangers of clashing with the corrupt.