The death of Nashik’s additional collector Yashwant Sonawane, who was burnt alive by the oil mafia in Manmad near Malegaon, is a blow to the Bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha to protect whistleblowers and for those who stand for the truth in public interest.
The gruesome tragedy occurred just a day before the Republic Day, and even after 62 years of independence, there is blatant lawlessness in the country. The government has failed to protect its own bureaucrats.
After Manjunath Shanmugam of the Indian Oil Corporation took it on the Oil Mafia in Uttar Pradesh for adulterating fuel and was killed for his exposure, officials asked for security, which was promised but not fulfilled. And what we have now is the death of the Sonawane who is killed for stopping diversion of kerosene meant for the poor.
After the Adarsh Housing Scam and the others that followed, one would think that to find an honest bureaucrat is like searching for a needle in a haystack.
And when we did find one in Yashwant Sonawane, look what happened to him. He was doused with kerosene and set on fire. “There is no fear of the law,” said Advocate S Venkateshwar of the Bombay high court.
“The image of Maharashtra has taken a beating and if this continues. the state will stop being an investment destination,” said Venkateshwar. Sonawane was rewarded with death for his honesty. Officials will think twice before trying to be honest now.
While hearing a PIL on the murder of Satyendra Dubey — the Bihar-based engineer who was killed for exposing the irregularities in road contracts, the Supreme Court pitched in strongly for a mechanism to protect whistleblowers and that is how the Bill to protect persons making disclosures was introduced. But like the Central Vigilance Committee, which was set up to protect those who expose Corruption and stand up for public interest, the Bill to protect whistleblowers is toothless. The proof of the inefficiency and powerlessness is seen in the fact that in the past one year, eight activists, who tried to expose corruption using the RTI Act, have been killed and 20 others seriously injured. RTI activist Satish Shetty and Vishram Laxman Dodiya were done to death in spite of police protection.
Dodiya was a Surat-based shopkeeper who was killed after he refused to with draw an RTI application seeking information on illegal electricity connections in the city. On the day of his murder, Dodiya was called to the police station and the cops tried to persuade him to withdraw his application. He refused and was shot dead on his way back home.
If corruption and oil mafia are still surviving it is because it has politician’s blessings, babus’ patronage and public passivity. On January 26, Hindustan Times reported: ‘State watches as Manmad turns into oil adulteration hub’.
The story also mentioned that Public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal’s son Pankaj is a member of legislative assembly from Nandgaon constituency which Manmad falls under. Yet there is no political will to fight corruption, to stop fuel adulteration.
Our government is like the police in Bollywood movies. They predictably arrive on the scene after the crime has been committed and culprits have fled.
The government officials threatened to go on a strike if they would not be provided proper security while going on raids. Only then did the government wake up from its stupor and is now carrying out raids to nab the fuel adulterators.
Had the government done this earlier, a precious life would not have been lost. He wanted to transform, “Malegaon’s image as a backward communally polarised ghetto into that of a progressive education hub”, as mentioned in the HT report.
Politicians and ministers could dismiss such tragedies lightly, claiming small incidents occur, but the public should not take this lying low. The Bill to protect whistleblowers has to be converted into an Act immediately. Civil Society has to play a more proactive role to protect those who stand up for public interest otherwise the loss is entirely for us — the public.
(Indira Satyanarayan is an English professor at SK Somaiya college)