In November 2002, a civil engineer named Satyendra Dubey sent a letter to the office of the prime minister of India. At the time, Dubey was posted in Bihar, with the National Highways Authority of India, or NHAI. In the letter, he described widespread corruption in the Bihar operations of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s flagship national infrastructure project, the Golden Quadrilateral highway network. He wrote of how processes had been “manipulated and hijacked by the big contractors,” of the rampant “diversion or idling of funds,” of a “big fraud in the selection” of consultants, and of the NHAI’s complicity in such graft. A year later, Dubey was shot dead near his home, in the district of Gaya.
A few days later, the Indian Express broke the story of Dubey’s letter to the prime minister. It revealed that the engineer had left his letter unsigned, but had sent his curriculum vitae in separately to persuade the prime minister of his credentials. He specifically requested anonymity, writing, “I request you to kindly go through my brief particulars (attached on a separate sheet to ensure secrecy) before proceeding further.” But the prime minister’s office forwarded the letter to the road transport ministry with details of Dubey’s identity. From there, it was passed on to other government offices, and studied and discussed by a chain of officials.
The government’s betrayal of Dubey sparked public outrage, and a debate about the lack of legal protection for whistle-blowers seeking to expose corruption. After hearing a writ petition on Dubey’s murder, the Supreme Court directed the government to put in place “suitable machinery … for acting on complaints from ‘whistleblowers’” till such time as specific laws on the matter were enacted. In 2010, a trial court in Patna sentenced three people to life for the murder, but did not link the crime with Dubey’s activism.
In 2011, the United Progressive Alliance government introduced and passed the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill in the Lok Sabha; it was passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2014. The broad intent of the law is to enable whistle-blowers to report corruption involving government officials without risking their careers or safety.
Krishn Kaushik is a Staff Writer at The Caravan.