The conviction of all eight persons accused of murdering S. Manjunath in November 2005 is a shot in the arm for justice. For one, the verdict has been reached in 16 months, putting to rest doubts that the trial might be prolonged interminably. This is a strong signal that those with access to power and money cannot always find an easy way out in criminal cases. It is also a sign that civil society is no longer passive and is able to prevent the authorities from sweeping uncomfortable issues under the carpet. When the IIM engineer, working for Indian Oil Corporation, was murdered in 2005 for attempting to stop a petrol-adulteration racket in Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh, it made headlines. What captured the nation’s attention was not that the murderers were so casual in their crime, but that S. Manjunath — an example of the young India we take so much pride in — risked his life for his organisation. Posthumous awards, citations, and many ceremonies later, the only real movement has been in the pronouncement of a just verdict. But the Department of Personnel and Training’s much-hyped ‘Whistle-blowers and Public Interest Disclosure (Protection of Informers) Bill’ is still just a draft paper. This is a crying shame.
Manjunath’s decision to fight the racket was exemplary. Most officials would have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the blatant corruption that is par for the course in many parts of the country. But can they be blamed for this? To what extent is it fair to expect employees to risk their lives for organisations? Security measures that corporates have for personnel, especially those posted in dangerous parts of the country or occupying sensitive portfolios, are at best skeletal, or worse still, non-existent in most cases.
The verdict is a positive sign. But till personnel security becomes an integral part of a workforce’s template, there is little hope that young, dedicated men and women in public or private projects will be able to take on powerful and corrupt mafias. A much greater degree of transparency and accountability needs to be instituted to prevent idealistic young people like Manjunath from becoming victims of the system.