Vyapam scam: Whistle-blowers virtually on their own

In the absence of strong law, reporting has become a risky proposition.

July 11, 2015 03:18 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:27 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Vyapam scam whistle-blowers Ashish Kumar Chaturvedi and Prashant Pandey with their security guards during a intaraction with “The Hindu” in Delhi on Friday.

Vyapam scam whistle-blowers Ashish Kumar Chaturvedi and Prashant Pandey with their security guards during a intaraction with “The Hindu” in Delhi on Friday.

What should a person do if he gets hold of incriminating evidence of corruption against the Chief Minister of a State? With the rules for the existing >Whistle-blower Protection Act not notified as yet, and which therefore, renders the available whistle-blower protection law a paper tiger, there is no safe reporting or speedy investigative mechanism in place to address such a situation.

This was the dilemma faced by Prashant Pandey when he first got hold of about 40 GB of data from Madhya Pradesh Vyavasayik Pareeksha Mandal (Vyapam) office computers in Bhopal, containing incriminating evidence against Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his wife in the now headline-grabbing Vyapam scam: he did not know where to report it. The freelance digital security expert, also an ethical hacker, was encouraged by leaders of the Congress to hand over the details to them, but he told The Hindu , “I was clear that such sensitive information must not be handed over to anyone else other than a court or a specialised agency such as the CBI investigating the case.”

Police harassment Both Pandey and Ashish Chaturvedi, another whistle-blower in the Vyapam case, have been harassed by the Madhya Pradesh police during various stages of uncovering the details of the scam, with Pandey’s family being attacked by a truck 40 km from Indore as recently as May this year. Chaturvedi told The Hindu that even after he was provided security by the State, there have been six attempts on his life with medical students involved in the scam, attacking him in the open.

The trials and tribulations faced by Pandey and Chaturvedi, show how the absence of a functioning whistle-blower protection regime in India is putting both the person possessing such information, and the data serving as evidence, at risk. When Pandey had handed over the incriminating evidence he found to the Madhya Pradesh Special Task Force, they did nothing with it, he told The Hindu . Frustrated, he went to the media with the complaint. But the current whistle-blower protection law in India does not even recognise the act of exposing corruption through the media as an act of whistle-blowing.

Venkatesh Nayak, Access to Information programme coordinator for Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said the amendments being proposed by the Centre to the 2011 Whistle-blower Protection Law will only further prevent people from coming forward to blow the whistle. It exempts from the scope of whistle-blowing everything that is exempted from section 8 (1) of the Right to Information law, including cases seen as “compromising national security.”

The 2011 law as it is, is not without its limitations. Eminent lawyer and anti-corruption activist Prashant Bhushan told The Hindu that though he had demanded the anonymity of the whistle-blower in the 2G case in the Supreme Court, anonymity could not guarantee the safety of the whistle-blower or the information serving as evidence of corruption, in such cases as Vyapam, where corrupt government staff members know who the informant is.

‘Independent agencyneed of the hour’ “Government insiders blowing the whistle off corruption cases are victimised by way of suspension, physical threats and subject to administrative harassment. The only way this can stop is to have an independent agency to speedily investigate and resolve complaints,” he said.

He also pointed to agencies such as the Central Vigilance Commission, identified as competent authorities under the whistle-blower law, not even having adequate staff to probe complaints coming to them.

Chaturvedi, who has now been allotted two policemen as “security guards,” said that the men are keener on spying on him than protecting his life. There have been six attempts on his life since he was provided police security, he said.

India surely has a long way to go before whistle-blowing becomes safe for its citizens.

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