Whistleblowers in grave peril
The lack of safety and rising episodes of threatening, harassment and grisly murders of <g data-gr-id="66">whistle blowers</g>, lead to the passing of a progressive Whistleblowers Protection Act in 2011 to safeguard them.The current ruling dispensation has proposed some further amendments in order to address concerns relating to national security.However what the recent amendments have not thoroughly <g data-gr-id="67">adressed</g> are the concerns of witness security. Vyapam, or MPPEB, is an autonomous body that conducts recruitment tests for various posts as well as admission to professional courses.
Investigators have established that proxies appeared in the examinations with the help of various middlemen. This whole saga came to be known as the Vyapam scam.Narendra Singh Tomar, who had been in jail since February, died of a mysterious “heart attack” during treatment at Indore’s M Y Hospital Saturday. Tomar was an accused in the multi-crore Vyapam scam and the 24th person related to the scam who is now dead. The Special Task Force (STF), which took over the investigation a few months after the scam came to light in July 2013, recently told the high court that 23 persons named in various cases had died “unnatural deaths. As the accused in the case drop dead one by one, the need for an airtight whistleblower protection act with witness protection mechanisms is being direly felt. Not much has changed since the time of Satyendra Dubey.
Dubey was an Indian Engineering Service (IES) officer. He was the Project Director in the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) at Koderma. Faced with the possibility of high-level corruption within the NHAI, Dubey wrote directly to the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari <g data-gr-id="65">Vajpayee ,</g> detailing the financial and contractual irregularities in the project. While the letter was not signed, he attached a separate bio-data so that the matter would be taken more seriously. Despite a direct request that his identity be kept secret and despite the letter’s sensitive content, the letter along with bio-data was forwarded immediately to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.Three months later he was shot dead in mysterious circumstances. Dubey’s untimely death served as the catalyst of a mass outcry emerging around the need for witness and whistleblower protection in India. Since 2003, when Dubey was murdered, India has witnessed several cases of assault and heinous murder of RTI activists and whistleblowers.
In a different set of cases, court witnesses are threatened and even murdered to prevent them from testifying against the accused. Several witnesses in the rape case against <g data-gr-id="68">so called</g> god-man Asaram Bapu were killed within six months of each other. A judge and police inspector have also reportedly received threats since the case began in mid-2014. Against this gruesome scenario stands the unenforced Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011. While the courts continue to exhort governments to draw up effective witness protection mechanisms. Witness protection mechanisms remain a joke. Witness protection mechanisms are and will remain inordinately crucial in any effective and robust criminal justice system. It’s time India acted on this need of the hour.