The Men Who Spoke

Squashed between the inflation roller coaster and the FDI gush-ins, the country has donned a strange look at its business front. Clearly, it is money and not economics that dictates the commercial order of the day. Money and Commerce – the winning combination which is manna for the developed countries is more often than not a miasma for the developing countries. In 9 out of 10 cases, the deadly duo has churned out an anathema which mocks the very existence of “free and welfare citizenship” and that is Corruption.

Welcome home to India. Over half the world’s major exporters to India still lack the political will to prosecute foreign bribery.

Thousands of dusty files in the Supreme Court cabinets stand testimony to the fact that corruption has the most physical existence in the 21st century. It has certainly become a major agent in drawing our attention towards one of the most ignored yet the most important bunch of the lot – the “whistle blowers”. These consist of the unspoken, unlettered, unappraised, unappreciated, unrewarded bunch of perhaps the most honest officers a country could ever have. In a more household term, these people are the “corruption-busters”. Honesty is the only qualification for membership and the fees is often one’s life. The term`whistle-blowing’ is a fairly fresh entrant into the jargon of public and corporate affairs, although the phenomenon itself is not new. It refers to the method by which insiders go public with their claims of malpractices by, or within, organisations – usually after failing to remedy the matters from the inside, and often at great personal risk to themselves.

However sometimes, the cost of such valiant efforts is just too high to pay. Satyendra Nath Dubey, an engineer from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur working for National Highway Authority of India, was one of those rare young men who was honest. He probably never knew the “word” but died for simply doing the right thing. He was brutally gunned down by the mafia in Gaya on early morning of November 27, nearly a year after he had complained of heavy duty corruption on the Golden Quadrilateral project to the Prime Minister’s office. Knowing the peril that surrounds honest people bucking the corrupt system, in his letter, Dubey had requested that his name should not be revealed, a request that wasn’t honoured.The letter was sent from the PMO to the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways and then to the National Highway Authority of India, with which Dubey was working as Deputy General Manager. Dubey busted a scam and was rewarded with death. His death speaks plainly about the mounting nexus between politicians and the mafia and also emphasizes the illicit procedures concerned in awarding contracts and also the purportedly counterfeit pre-qualification bids in connection to big development projects. Corruption exists all over the world and thrives at all layers of the government. Officers who refuse to enter the bandwagon are victimized. In India, the Tehelka expose involving political black deals had not only victimized the reporters involved in the undercover operation but also harassed virtually anybody associated with the portal. Hundreds of officers are butchered every year in the name of this rare virtue called honesty. Strangely, the country is a silent bystander to this bloody rigmarole so much so that India has yet to pass a Whistleblowers’ Protection Act.

A corrupt company can be brought to its knees by a whistleblower (who cleverly utilizes the media for this purpose). It made small news amidst the US build-up against Taliban but many lessons flow from this incident to India. In order to woo doctors in a big way, a high priced drug company offered kickbacks to doctors in the U.S. The kickbacks included free trips to resorts, medical equipment, and cash in the form of “educational grants.” Doctors were offered $ 65,000 to switch their prescriptions. Many succumbed. But a group of honest doctors reported the case. Federal investigations were carried, the company was fined a whooping $875 million and the doctors were individually awarded $95 million. In this case of ‘honesty pays’, the trouble makers were bankrupted and the informers were paid a sum more than the bribes offered to them. A prominent publication stated that ‘…becoming a whistle-blower is now a financially sound career move, thanks to the UK’s Office of Fair Trade (OFT). The British watchdog announced that it will offer as much as £100,000 for information leading to the discovery and dismantling of illegal corporate cartels. The OFT has established a hotline (0800 085 1664) as well as an email address ([email protected]) that aspiring whistleblowers can use to report corruptive practices.

But that is UK. This is India. Close home, the prevailing penalty for fine is Rs 25,000-50,000 and the informers’ plight….I better spare the grotty details of unmerciful killings. Unsurprisingly, the inviting opportunity is not lost on the corrupt traders who seem to be taking full advantage of it with multi-crore misappropriations, mockery of penalty charges and having laws in the pocket. With politically-backed patrons, the meagre penalty is often a transfer of funds from corporates’ one pocket to another. This is motivation enough to bolster corruption. Where is the motivation to uphold principles and be honest, let alone bust scandals? Does it lie in inadequate protection, blatant hand-over or murder? India is the heart of democracy. It guarantees freedom of speech and expression. It is a land, poised to develop. A succession of absolute paradoxes when compared to what’s happening at ground-zero. In the practical sense, our country has opened up to globalisation without immunising herself against its bad half. Lacking in bold reforms and economic confidence, she serves the purpose of globalisation as a virgin resource pool and a dumping ground. The brief stints of modernisation have rubbed her raw. Economic integration and reforms are important but not-called-for, if we are the chaff which is ultimately sieved out. Progressive legal and policy reforms can only save the day. Here, the whistle-blowers have a case. It is time that the authorities took cognizance of the fact that money associated with development that usually comes from the tax payers’ pockets land up in corrupt hands. At stake is not only the nation’s steady structuring but also the commendable handful who dare to bare the shocking facts of corruption .They are the ones we are longing to follow.

Bhavna Tripathy

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