A railway official is murdered for reporting corruption in a railway project. Another official who dared to do the same is running for his life. Corruption, as always, is corroding official machinery. Can those who dare to speak out expect anything other than victimization, transfers and threats to life? A forum of eminent citizens has come together to find an answer.

S K Nagarwal was Executive Engineer working on the Eklakhi-Balurghat New Railway Line (in West Bengal). On reporting corruption in this project to his superiors (including the Railway Board), the letter of complaint was leaked to the contractor mafia who have threatened to eliminate him and his family. He was transferred many times and his bosses tarnished his Annual Confidential Reports. Official facilities he receives like a vehicle, supporting staff, telephones, etc., were withdrawn. Besides this, his superiors forced him to work under a junior officer to him and he was insulted before his subordinates.

The new track was designed and constructed for a speed of 100 kmph. However, the Commissioner of Safety approved the track only for a speed of 60 kmph. At some places, the quality is so poor that almost 40 km of the total stretch of 87 Km could be approved for a speed of 10 Km per hour! Contractors used sub-standard ballast & blanketing material in the construction and this could easily cause a derailment. The line sinks severely at several places during the rains.

Nagarwal complained. On getting no positive response from General Manager/Construction, he wrote to the Advisor/Vigilance, Railway Board with evidence. However, his complaint was routinely forwarded, along with his identity, to the Northeast Frontier (NF) Railway Vigilance Department despite there being clear instructions from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) against identity of complainant being disclosed during investigations. But the vigilance department of NF Railways did conduct raids on the Eklakhi-Balurghat Project. However, the contractor suspects soon managed to influence the Vigilance Department and later also threatened Nagarwal.

According to CVC rules, Nagarwal's case should have been taken over by the CBI. However, officials have worked together to violate these rules.
In July 2003, Nagarwal was transferred to Katihar from Malda (West Bengal) and his complaint was quietly dumped and forgotten. Then, within three months, he was transferred to Guwahati. His movements and those of his family members who were living alone at Farakka were being traced while another whistleblower, Satyendra Dubey was murdered in similar circumstances – reason enough for Nagarwal to apply for security.

The Guwahati High Court which had directed protection for Nagarwal. However, this has not been provided even six months after this order has been passed. When NF Railway authorities disobeyed the court's orders, Nagarwal had to file two contempt petitions to force railways to comply. He asserts that what he has now is inadequate.

Under Supreme Court directions, the Central Government had recently issued an order making the CVC the nodal agency to protect whistleblowers. According to this order, if any whistleblower makes a complaint of corruption to the CVC, the CVC would be required to provide protection to the whistleblower against any physical attack and administrative victimization, to protect the identity of the whistleblower and to ensure proper investigation into charges of corruption. Citing this order, Nagarwal sought protection from the CVC in August 2004 but in vain.

Also, the CVC has issued detailed rules in the form of vigilance manuals, which should be followed by all vigilance agencies working in Central Government Departments. According to these rules, Nagarwal’s complaint – containing strong evidences of corruption, forgery and falsification of records – should have been entrusted to the CBI. This has not been done so far.

The Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO) of the Indian Railways is an important internal functionary in these matters. (Many departments of the government have their own internal vigilance wing, but under the administrative control of department.) The CVO should have transferred all officials suspected to be guilty in this case. Ironically, however, Nagarwal himself was transferred twice. The CVO, Indian Railways and the N.F.Railway have worked together to violate the rules.

It is to provide a credible support to whistleblowers that a group of eminent and concerned citizens have come together as Citizens Forum Against Corruption (CFAC). The forum was formed in October 2004. CFAC boasts of members from diverse fields: Admiral R H Tahiliyani, Ajit Mozoomdar, Arvind Kejriwal, Colin Gonsalves, Justice Leila Seth, Kamini Jaiswal Muchkund Dubey, Madhu Bhaduri, Prabhash Joshi, Prashant Bhushan, R Parmeshwar, Ramaswamy R. Iyer, Sanjay Parikh, Sudhir Verma, Shekhar Singh, S K Jha, SP Shukla and Vinod Khanna.

According to CFAC spokesperson T K Naveen, the forum typically invites cases of corruption from whistleblowers who have information and evidence and who would like to report such a case anew or who have already reported such cases but have not received adequate response from the government. A working group of the panel scrutinizes the evidence and presents a summary document to the panel.

Says Naveen, "much energy during the initial two three months was spent on putting some sort of system in place." Most of the expenses are borne by various individual members. There is also some financial support from the S K Dubey foundation. There are no other funds.

Nagarwal's case is the first case in which the forum has acted. In the Nagarwal case, for instance, the forum has approached the CVC and concerned authorities enquiring about the nature and quantum of action taken until now and action proposed to be taken.

For other cases which are currently being processed, the final decision on represenation has not been taken. "CFAC will take up only those cases which have a serious impact on public interest where significant amounts or serious illegality is involved, or which involve high offices held by the person's involved and also those cases revealing gross systemic deficiencies," says Naveen.

CFAC says they will ensure complete anonymity to officers do not want their identity revealed. But for the cases that have come up before CFAC presently, officers are willing to put their name out in the open. But "CFAC members have reputation to have dealt with the sensitivity that is needed in such cases", says Naveen.

For each case that the panel decides to take up, the panel will first write to the concerned department, CVC, CBI and other investigative agencies to inquire and to take adequate action. If CFAC does not receive adequate response or see sufficient action it may make the matter public to expose the concerned department or vigilance agency. As a last resort, CFAC may decide to take the case to court.

India is the world's largest and over half-a-century old democracy. It is also here that government servants can be murdered for speaking the truth against government. If civil society initiatives like the CFAC have a few successes that include justice for whistleblowers, it will inspire confidence among more whistleblowers to come out and report corruption. This is both the hope and promise.