By: Trayambak Chakravarty
The word whistleblowing has in recent years been distilled to a naïve status, wherein if one is a whistleblower, their identities become assigned to weak, scared and vindictive. However, this adulteration of the concept has its roots in the ability of powerful figures in trying to discredit what whistleblowers around the world have and achieve in the interests of not themselves, but the wider world.
There are many forms of whistleblowing around the world. Some of the more common and romanticised in the media are government and corporate whistleblowing, with prominent examples being William Sanjour (EPA-USA), Edward Snowden (US Military) and Sherron Watkins (Enron). However, there is a special case to be made for people who have put their lives in danger for the cause of the climate, and have risked much more than their careers to make people aware of massive environmental damage being caused by governments and large organisations. These climate whistleblowers are finally being given the credit that they are due for a long time, owing to the highly volatile nature of the climate crisis that the world is experiencing today.
Climate Whistleblowers of India
In India, the issue of climate whistleblowing has not reached a level where the only concern of the whistleblower is for the environment itself. However, many Indian whistleblowers, some of whom have even lost their lives for their cause, have shined a spotlight on the pervasive evil and massive size of organisations that are consistently damaging the environment. These issues, whether highlighted for their corruption, corporate or legal malpractice, or even just mismanagement, have also been important in knowing where the power of the country really lies, and how the environment has become a toy to be played with for the rich and powerful. While there are countries like the USA, where lobbying is a legal profession which to a large degree has made the public discourse highly divisive and abusive, India does not consider lobbying legal, and thus acts of corruption are widely prevalent and yet publicly abhorred.
Satyendra Dubey was an officer of the Indian Engineering Service in 2002 when he was given the responsibility of handling the construction of a stretch of the then newly announced Golden Quadrilateral Highway project in Bihar. Bihar has been hindered for a long time by the existence of various mafias and syndicates relating to different businesses, such as mining, construction and manufacturing, among others. This stretch of the highway too, was being built under the influence of the road building mafia. Three engineers highlighted severe instances of corruption during the construction of the road, for which Satyendra Dubey raised his concerns publicly and necessitated the reconstruction of a stretch of the highway which was built using poor methods and materials, to a great cost for the contractor. For this, Satyendra Dubey was murdered a day after he turned 30, making him one of the first high profile victims of the enormous rut that is the culture of corruption and syndicates in India.
However, an interesting point to note here, is that although Satyendra Dubey was fighting against the rampant corruption associated with the Golden Quadrilateral project, the highway has been flagged by studies as having a highly negative effect on the forest cover of the regions that it passes through, to the rate of reducing 20% of the forest cover it passes through every 100 kilometres. Furthermore, these mafias and syndicates that control the contractors for the building of these highways constantly ignore safety and environmental regulations when it comes to the materials and methods used for the actual construction of the highway, with an adverse impact on the surrounding environment. It is not that laws do not exist to combat these problems, but that they are not implemented due to the lack of accountability that a culture of corruption has enabled in these industries. The death of Satyendra Dubey should stand as an ideal for the issue of climate whistleblowing in India, where more public officers should be made entitled to voice their opinions if the need arises.
Similarly, Vijay Pandhare in 2005 became a pioneer for the cause of what we can reliably now call climate whistleblowing when he blew the lid on the rampant mismanagement and corruption taking place in Lift Irrigation Projects in Maharashtra, in his capacity as Chief Engineer of the Water Resources department. His work led to the resignation of the deputy Chief Minister as well as a wider national discussion about the nature of whistleblowing in India. Water, already a scarce resource in India, is misused to such an extent that places which should have an excess of water supply have to deal with droughts and famines, leading to a widespread ecological crisis that has impacted periods of low crop production in states that have irregular rain, such as Maharashtra itself. Noble projects such as the irrigation project get derailed due to corruption and inefficiency, which highlights the importance of what these whistleblowers even more.
Other whistleblowers in India who have martyred their lives for the cause of integrity, and who can now be called climate whistleblowers in a true sense, include Shanmugam Manjunath, who highlighted rampant corruption and malpractice in the petrol pump system in India and was murdered by the oil mafia, showcasing their power and influence. Narendra Kumar, an IPS officer, was murdered by the sand mining mafia for bringing to light the highly destructive practices of the sand mining industry, which have legitimate and widespread environmental and health concerns.
It is relevant to note that India has a relatively recent culture of whistleblowing. This is due to the fact that it was only after the murder of Satyendra Dubey that the word even entered the public discourse, while it was only in 2014 that a law was passed in the Parliament that protected whistleblowers in India, called The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014. However, the act only protects public servants and government employees. It is also disturbing to note that the law has not yet been made operational, with the central government constantly asking for more time to add additional clauses that seem to be a case of them buckling under the pressures of the lobbying that the industries that would suffer from this law. However, now that climate whistleblowing is an international concern, it is inevitable and necessary that India too establish a culture of self-reporting, with proper laws being framed to protect individuals who risk their lives to highlight the immense wrongdoings of individuals and organisations who cannot look beyond profit, ignoring the widespread destruction they cause on the environment in an age of a legitimate climate crisis.
THE WHISTLE BLOWERS’ PROTECTION ACT, 2014, https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A2014-17.pdf
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