Nandi Singh, 40, was hacked to death in a remote village in Assam. His crime: he blew the whistle on misappropriation in the local public distribution system (PDS). His killing in Dhemaji village came even as a bill for protection of whistleblowers was listed in Rajya Sabha both during the budget and monsoon sessions but could not be taken up as parliament was continually disrupted during both sessions.
The entire monsoon session, in fact, was washed out by BJP protests over the allocation of coal blocks.
Nandi Singh had raised the red flag against a fair price shop under the PDS in his village. He was killed in his home in front of his wife.
This is only one of several such incidents. On July 7, a school teacher, Barun Biswas, was shot dead in 24 Parganas of West Bengal.
Biswas had raised his voice against the accused in a gangrape case and also lodged an FIR in the case in 2000. Due to his efforts, six of the accused had been sentenced to life imprisonment, but the others remained absconding.
In another incident in July, K Rajmohan Chandra, who had filed several cases against politicians and businessmen, was hacked to death by a gang in Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu.
As such attacks on whistleblowers keep occurring, activists feel the government is not serious about safety of people who expose corruption.
“You would expect the government to show some urgency in such matters, but they appear apathetic to this,” Anil Bairwal, National Coordinator of National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, a whistleblowers group, told IANS.
RTI crusader Subhash Agrawal, a Delhi-based activist, feels he is safe primarily because he is based in the national capital.
“The whistleblowers killed are mostly in far-flung areas. Perhaps living in Delhi makes it safe,” Agrawal said.
“After some recent RTIs I got abusive calls. At one point of time, I had filed some RTIs about the Nigambodh ghat cremation ground. There was an attack on a team from Doordarshan that was making a programme based on the RTI… I escaped by chance,” he said.
The need for legislation to protect whistleblowers is a long pending demand.
Activists started demanding the legislation after the murder of Satyendra Dubey, a project director at the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
Dubey had written to the Prime Minister’s Office exposing corruption in ongoing Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project. His name had been disclosed by the PMO, leading to his murder.
The whistleblowers’ protection bill was passed by Lok Sabha in December 2011 after many years. It is now pending in Rajya Sabha and more amendments are expected in the bill which has already been through a parliamentary standing committee.
Manish Sisodia, a member of the erstwhile Team Anna, says the government is not serious about the legislation and maintains the bill is weak.
“First of all the bill that is proposed is toothless. The whistleblowers’ complaint is to be handled by the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission), which is powerless and armless,” Sisodia said.
National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, a group which fought for the Right to Information (RTI) Act, points out that the bill says nothing about the safety of whistleblowers who are not government employees.
“A large number of people who are being attacked are not government employees. The bill does not say how such people will be protected,” NCPRI member Venkatesh Nayak told IANS.
“It also does not say what kind of relief they (whistleblowers) will get. It says the authority will give directions to police to protect them, but that is not adequate. Someone has to monitor and see that the culprits are brought to book,” Nayak said.
“The biggest protection would be a quick inquiry and action against wrongdoers… Sadly the bill does not talk about this,” he added.
According to Sisodia, “the main problem is that the very people who are at risk from whistleblowers are supposed to make and pass the law. Politicians and bureaucrats are the ones involved in corrupt practices”.
The activist is for a proper discussion on the bill.
In this context, Bairwal of Election watch criticized the hijacking of the monsoon session of parliament by the Bharatiya Janata Party over the allocation of coal blocks.
“Bills should be debated and parliament should function,” he said.
“Rather than giving each other an opportunity to express their views, they simply wasted time when very important laws like lokpal bill, the whistleblowers protection bill and the judicial accountability bill are pending,” said Nayak.
Sisodia said that the anti-corruption bills should be seen in totality, as a whistleblower’s aim ultimately is to expose corruption.
Protection of whistleblowers is endorsed by the United Nations, which has adopted the Convention Against Corruption. This has been signed by 140 nations, including India and came into force in December 2005.