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This system of ours

This system of ours

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: November 24, 2005
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=82607

Introduction: Wanted: bright, young, honest Indians willing to die in vain

Satyendra Dubey was from IIT. He could have gone anywhere and taken the safe options when confronted with a wrongdoing. But he joined the public sector National Highway Authority of India and got murdered for speaking up against the contractor mafia. Manjunathan Shanmugham was from IIM. He, too, had the choice of a cosy job in the private sector where the most dangerous threat is to one's annual bonus. But Shanmugam joined the public sector IOC and lost his life to the oil mafia.

Their deaths pose several questions, and not one of them lends itself to a comfortable answer. First, if parts of the public sector are prone to be hijacked by private mafia, what does that say of the official establishment's credentials as a modern employer? Remember, NHAI and IOC are high profile PSUs, not some moribund state organisations in a forgotten corner of the country. Second, what allows the public sector to be so vulnerable against criminal profit-making activities? The answer: a bizarre mix of callousness and control. In Dubey's case, his questions on contractual venality were lost in an administrative vacuum. In Shanmugham's case, his quality control duties were complicated several times by the fact that the government controls the price of kerosene. The subsidy on kerosene makes fuel adulteration hugely profitable. The poor mostly buy the fuel at black market prices. Third, when a tragedy like Shanmugham's confronts us, what post facto assurance do we get from the official agencies involved that the extraordinary moral dimensions of the case will imply extraordinary corrective and investigative efforts? The policing on Dubey meanders. The message may have been missed by everyone but contractor mafias around the country. The UP police or the CBI, if called in again, is frankly unlikely to do anything different in Shanmugham's case.

Supreme Court extracted an official commitment on a whistle-blower's law following the public outrage in the Dubey case. Maybe, the oil ministry's prolonged slumber on fuel adulteration will be disturbed after Shanmugham's death. Perhaps, Mani Shankar Aiyar will pilot a bill on stricter penalties for adulterators. They will not exactly be quaking in their boots the day Parliament makes that into law. These people are in the system. And they bank on the fact that there are so few Dubeys and Shanmughams outside it.


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