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Issue No.: 571 | January 2015
 

Threats to Upright Bureaucrats and the state of Investigative Journalism

V. Krishna Moorthy
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Threats to journalists who report such murky deals face dire consequences, which have become common from the underworld and the unlawful elements of the society.

A free press is the lifeblood of a vibrant democracy and it is the right of every citizen to know the truth and towards this end a free press plays a pivotal role. Freedom First, Opinion and a few other newspapers like Indian Express proved their credentials admirably during the Emergency rule of Indira Gandhi, while the majority in the print media bent backwards to please the powers that be. It is in this context recalling the story of Washington Post’s sterling performance and its ace journalists and the great editor Benjamin C. Bradlee who died recently, would be inspiring to the present crop of journalists and editors. It is particularly relevant, at a time when threats to journalists is becoming the order of the day when they are performing their professional duties. The recent incident when the ANI reporters were unlawfully detained when Robert Vadra was questioned about his controversial land deals in Haryana is a case in point.

The Washington Post is known for investigative journalism of a very high order. The high watermark of its success was when it consistently reported the Watergate stories through its journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, almost 40 years ago. The ace journalists of the well-known daily had a great boss in Benjamin C. Bradlee, who presided over The Washington Post newsroom for over a quarter century and guided the Post’s transformation into one of the world’s leading newspapers. Bradlee who retired from the newspaper in 1991 died on 21st October 2014 at the ripe age of 93.

It was only in 2005 that America’s popular magazine, Vanity Fair in its May 31, 2005 issue revealed the big secret in American journalism about the ‘source’ of the Watergate stories. In an interview published in Vanity Fair, FBI’s No.2, the 91-year old Mark Felt had said: ‘I am the guy they used to call ‘Deep Throat.’ The source was kept secret for over 30 years. The investigative journalists had decided earlier that they would reveal the name only after Deep Throat had died. Till then the trio (Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee) had carefully guarded the secret of the ‘source’ code named ‘Deep Throat’ in their reports, and it had acquired mythical stature in American journalism.

                                                      
That brings me to the fate of whistle blowers in our country’s public administration. Haryana bureaucrat Ashok Khemka’s story and that of Ms. Shakti Nagpal of UP IAS cadre is well known and has been covered widely in all media. Here in Karnataka, we have some excellent bureaucrats who strictly follow the law and can take on the politicians and the interested parties head on. One such bureaucrat is Ms. Rashmi, presently posted as the Director General of the Administrative Training Institute (ATI), Mysore, an apex training institute for the state’s bureaucrats and newly recruited IAS officers from different states. All IAS officers posted to the state invariably undergo Kannada language training at the Institute which is funded both by the state and Centre. These civil servants and police personnel are supposed to implement and execute the laws of the land.

Threats to the persona and life of the police personnel and at times the civil servants is a common feature in Naxal-ridden states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, UP, West Bengal and Telangana. It is not the case in other states, particularly in the south. But the trend appears to be changing with corruption and scams on the rise. A handful of bureaucrats in these states are bent on upholding the rule of law in whatever position they are posted.
Ms. Rashmi Mahesh, since she took charge, has been reporting financial anomalies at the Institute to the state government from time to time, highlighting the discrepancies in the management of the finances of the Institute against the established rules in her correspondence with the government. The ‘source’ (the Canteen Manager and book-keeper) through whom she was able to ascertain the murky-deals in the previous six years has reportedly led to Rs. 100 cr. scam in running the Institute. In mid-October, the ‘source’ died under mysterious circumstances with his body floating in the Institute’s swimming pool. The dead man (the source) is reported to have revealed the details of the corrupt deals of the previous DG. 
With this development Rashmi, who suddenly got into news since mid-October, was manhandled in public when as the Chief of ATI she went to pay her last respects to the dead man resulting in head injuries, a broken tooth and serious bruises. Rashmi survived the attack and there was a news report in the local press that plans were afoot to even kill the bureaucrat by putting a bomb in the vehicle she was to travel. This is the fate of upright bureaucrats who strictly follow the rule of law. All this has happened when there is a District-in-Charge Minister, who is from the city and is stationed here.

Threats to journalists who report such murky deals have become common. They face dire consequences from the underworld and the unlawful elements of the society. Religious fanatics, powerful leaders of religious organizations, powerful politicians and top police personnel are also getting added to this group because of which even professional journalists prefer to take the soft option of not reporting such murky deals. The recent incident of Robert Vadra detaining the ANI journalists seeking his response in respect of his controversial land deals in Haryana is a case in point which is a dangerous trend that goes against the freedom of expression and the right of every citizen to get to the truth.

It is in this context that the United Nations has in 2012 developed an approach called the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and designated November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The Plan is designed to uphold the fundamental right of freedom of expression which ensures that citizens are well informed and able to actively participate in society. Can the NDA government under Prime Minister Modi do something to set right the rules to take care of such eventualities?

In respect of the Mysore event, there were news reports that the state government even tried to transfer Rashmi from her present posting at ATI, but withdrew the same within hours as such a move would have boomeranged on the government. This bureaucrat Rashmi Mahesh, known to be a no-nonsense type, is reported to have seen 23 transfers in 17 years of her service for adhering to the laid down rules and taking on the politicians of the day who wanted to bend them for their benefit. Soon after the incident where she was manhandled by the mob and the police personnel present were mute spectators, she addressed the local press. The State Chief Secretary is reported to have issued a notice to Rashmi seeking an explanation for addressing the press on the matter without taking prior permission! The Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee considers Rashmi’s behaviour in the matter as an act of indiscipline under provisions in All India Services Conduct Rules, 1968 and All-India Services Discipline and Appeal Rules, 1969. Reports indicate that in his latest interview to Deccan Chronicle, the CM said that Dr. Prasad’s services appear to have been sought by the Centre and therefore relieved from state service! Is it not time to change the rules of All India Services to protect honest civil servants? Can the NDA government under Modi give some thought to the issue to enable honest officers do their duty without fear or favour?

Since I started this piece with The Washington Post story, it is appropriate to conclude it by telling the readers of Freedom First the way the paper was run and upheld the value of the First Amendment and the fundamental right of every citizen to know the truth and form his/her opinion. Mrs. Katharine Graham, the then owner who ran The Washington Post from 1963 to 1991, in her best-selling and Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, simply titled Personal History, dwells at length on the interesting period when the paper published the Watergate stories against all odds and threats from the American establishment which makes racy reading. While most of the other papers did not even run the Watergate stories or buried them somewhere in the back pages, the Washington Post carried the stories in the front pages with attractive headlines that finally brought Nixon to his heels.

V. KRISHNA MOORTTHY, CEO, Parivarthan, Mysore can be reached at 
moorthy_vk@rediffmail.com

 
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Between Oursleves

Between Ourselves

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Obituary

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Balraj Puri

 

Prime Minister Modi – Reforms and Governance

Modi and His Alter-Ego

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The Late unlamented Planning Commission

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Swachh Bharat

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Foreign Relations in the 21st Century

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Why China Wants to be a Full Member of SAARC

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Point Counter Point : Every issue has at least two sides

Return of a Jihadi

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The Hisar Seige

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Mamata’s Ire

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Shiv Sena’s Contortions

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The Tibetans’ Struggle for Freedom

Missing the Whole Picture

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World Human Rights Day

 

Reflections

Constitution – an Instrument of Governance of A Nation: Austinian and Ambedkarian Perspectives

B. N. Mehrish
 

Some Thoughts on Our Judiciary and the Media

H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana
 

Justice Delayed

Farrokh Mehta
 

Threats to Upright Bureaucrats and the state of Investigative Journalism

V. Krishna Moorthy
 

The Jhagada Dals

T. H. Chowdary
 

Bharatiya Sanskriti Bhavans

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The Rural Perspective

Agriculture and Rural Indebtedness - V

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Book Review

CONFRONTING THE STATE

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ALTAMONT ROAD AND OTHER TRUE STORIES

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DEATH WASN’T PAINFUL: STORIES OF INDIAN FIGHTER PILOTS FROM THE 1971 WAR

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Educating Adults

Legalise Prostitution: Shift the Onus on the State

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Review of the Right to Information (RTI)

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Nostalgia

Many Voices from the past

 

Miscellany

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On the Medical Profession

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Satyarthi’s Nobel Gets Muted Response

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Nehru and Kashmir

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Defence Budget

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