High insecurity

Three separate incidents reassert the urgent need for laws protecting whistleblowers and witnesses.

By: Express News Service | Updated: May 19, 2015 12:00:33 am

On a technicality, Delhi Police has withdrawn protection from the family of Prashant Pandey, who blew the whistle on the Vyapam scam, exposing irregularities in the recruitment process for government jobs in Madhya Pradesh. Just a week ago, it was learned that Jyotsana Yagnik, the judge who convicted 32 in the Naroda Patiya case, including Babu Bajrangi and former state minister Maya Kodnani, has had her security cover reduced despite receiving death threats. This, too, appears to have been a procedural decision, following her retirement as a sessions judge. Both have informed the authorities.

Meanwhile, witnesses in the 2013 cases filed against Asaram Bapu and his son Narayan Sai appear to constitute an endangered species. Last week, Asaram’s secretary Mahendra Chawla, a key witness, was shot at in Panipat. He has survived two bullet injuries. He was preceded by individuals less lucky. There was public outrage in January when the second witness in the Surat sexual assault case was shot dead in Muzaffarnagar. Before that, Asaram’s ayurvedic doctor was shot dead after surviving multiple attempts on his life. An ashram worked had been shot at before he was to depose against Asaram, and the husband of a woman who had allegedly suffered assault was also attacked. While this could be one epic concatenation of coincidences, to the interested bystander, it does look like the witnesses for the prosecution are falling in a hail of premeditated fire. Whatever the truth of the matter, the sequence of events shows the case in a new light.

Such impunity is routine in a regime without automatic protection of whistleblowers and witnesses, in which every friend of the prosecution must separately negotiate with the state for the preservation of the most fundamental rights to life and liberty.

It must also prevail under an administration which goes by the letter and is unmoved by the spirit — Pandey’s cover was withdrawn solely because the order in his case did not explicitly require it to be continued. The authorities were unimpressed by his plea that much of the scam was yet to be uncovered. Besides, if a whistleblower law had been in place, his identity would have been preserved from exposure. The events in these three diverse cases reminds us yet again that the Indian legal system lacks a good institutional mechanism to protect whistleblowers and witnesses for the prosecution, despite the passage of the whistleblower protection act in 2014.

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