Professionalism/Satyendra Dubey and the National Highways Authority of India
Satyendra Dubey (Hindi: सत्येन्द्र दूबे) was born into a poor family in the small village of Shahpur of Bihar, India. In 1990, he was admitted to the Civil Engineering Department ofIndia Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur to pursue his dream to become an engineer. He graduated in 1994, becoming the first person from his village to enter and graduate from an IIT. For several years, Dubey worked at the Ministry of Surface Transport before moving to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) in July of 2002. AT the NHAI, Dubey was made the assistant project manager at Koderma. He was responsible for managing the construction of a section of the Golden Quadrilateral highway project, a network connecting India's four largest cities. It is the largest road project in India and was initiated by the Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
While working at the NHAI, Dubey discovered that the contracted firm assigned to build sections of the roads, Larsen & Toubro, had been subcontracting the actual work to smaller groups, controlled by the local mafia. He found that these smaller contractors did not have the expertise to build quality roads. Later on, Dubey reportedly had the contractor rebuild six kilometers of roads at a loss to the mafia. Dubey wrote to his boss, NHAI Project Director SK Soni, about the corruption in the contracting firm, but he received no response and faced several threats following his actions at Koderma.
|“||A dream project of unparalleled importance to the Nation but in reality a great loot of public money... I will keep on addressing these issues in my official capacity in the limited domain within the powers delegated to me.||”|
—Dubey's Letter to the Prime Minister
In August 2003, against his own will, he was transferred to Gaya. At Gaya, he experienced the same corruption found in Koderma. Frustrated with the lack of action, Dubey wrote directly to the Prime Minister, detailing the financial and contractual violations in the project. He had explicitly requested to have his identity kept secret, but despite this, the letter along with his personal information was forwarded to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. It is believed that the contracting firm may have had access to this letter.
On November 27, 2003, Dubey was returning from a wedding. He reached Gaya railway station at three in the morning and found that his car was not able to start. Dubey never made it home. He was found by his personal driver, shot dead in Gaya.
As a whistleblower, Dubey had his own moral guidelines on what he thought was right and wrong. While many people would have chosen to look the other way, Dubey believed that it was his responsibility to bring corruption to the attention of his superiors, for the good of India. In his letter to the Prime Minister, Dubey's request to keep his identity hidden was not an act of avoiding responsibility, but rather to secure his own personal safety. The Prime Minister of India and the Indian government not only failed to assist Dubey in correcting these contracting violations, but their actions may have led to Dubey's murder. The cost of exposing corruption in India and the lack of responsibility from public officials describes the country's need to enact procedures and laws to protect whistleblowers.
The public response to Dubey’s murder was immediate and widespread. The combination of his humble origins, his academic and professional successes, and his stance on corruption gave him a hero-like status. The chairman of Transparency International, R.H. Tahiliani, gave Dubey the following praise:
Mr. Dubey laid down his life in fighting the scourge of corruption. He could either have gone with the tide or kept his anonymity by remaining in the background. But, he boldly chose to be in the forefront and fight for justice. His death is a testimony to his idealism and a source of inspiration to the people who are keen to fight the evil of corruption.
In the days following Dubey’s death, The Indian Express, one of India’s major and respected newspapers, received over 25,000 angry letters condemning the incident. Protests were staged throughout India, and the internet was abuzz with discussion forums, social networking groups, and petitions whose goal was to share information about the case and exert pressure on the government to respond more strongly. Created by fellow alumni of IIT-Kanpur, the yahoo group “Jago India,” was one such example. Their front page read:
IT is Time for a CHANGE. It is time for IIT-IIM alumni, staff students to make in-roads into governance and politics and try to stem corruption as well as eradicate it. Besides Fighting Corruption which is a very ambitious objective, we will be striving to find Dubey's Killers and every man and woman who was involved in instigating his cold blooded murder.
Petition to the Prime Minister’s Office
Among other efforts, a petition was quickly initiated to “demand a fully inquiry and justice” from the office of the Prime Minister (PMO). The Petition’s specific request was for the PMO to form an “independent CBI inquiry free from any undue political influence.” The letter gathered over 50,000 signatures and perhaps as a result, ten days later Prime Minister Vajpayee requested an independent CBI inquiry into Dubey’s death. In a statement, Vajpayee said, "Those responsible for his death, wherever they may be, will not be spared."
Whistleblower Protection Bill
In addition to pushing for a larger inquiry into Dubey’s murder, the public and some politicians began to endorse the ratification of a Whistleblower Protection Bill in India. Many blamed the PMO for revealing Dubey’s name despite his explicit request for anonymity, and believed that this legislation could prevent similar instances from occurring in the future. Resistance to the bill was sizable however, and it wasn’t until August of 2010 that the Indian Parliament enacted the Whistleblower Protection Bill. Some of the highlights of the Bill include:
- Protection for whistleblowers from workplace discrimination and victimization
- Enforcement of a whistleblower’s anonymity
- Punishment for those who reveal a whistleblower’s identity with up to three years in prison and an $1100 fine
- Complaints against public sector employees and employees of the state and central governments
Corruption in India
India has a long history of political and bureaucratic corruption. The world’s largest democracy tops the list for black money with approximately 1.4 trillion dollars, and it ranks at 87th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the “degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among public officials and politicians.”Corruption has been especially widespread in state-funded construction—specifically, road-building. Recently there has been a congressional push for cracking down on the road mafia, but for years they have gone largely unchecked. In an article In India Today, a senior police officer remarked that the mafia makes more than 500 million dollars a year from operations in operations in railways, irrigation, the public works department (roads), real estate and mining
Comparison to Other Cases
Corruption in Culture
Corruption was steadily incorporated into Andersen’s culture through bad dealings that were never dealt with. The idea of normalization of deviance plays a big role in the increased corruption. In India, corruption is commonplace, with the country ranking 87th out of 178 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
Merck pressured researchers and scientist to keep silent about Merck’s VIGOR study. In Dubey’s case, the Prime Minister’s Office rejected Dubey’s request for anonymity, and their actions silenced Dubey forever.
The governments of America and India played a huge role in the outcomes of the Challenger and Dubey, respectively. The Challenger was Ronald Reagan’s way to reform education in America. The Reagan Administration used the project as a public relations tool and most likely wanted to time the launch of the Challenger with Reagan’s State of the Union address. Although the White House denied any involvement with the decision to launch the space shuttle, the mounting political pressure may have caused the deaths of those on board the Challenger. In Dubey’s case, the Golden Quadrilateral was the Prime Minister’s project. In Dubey’s words, it was “a dream project of unparalleled importance to the nation [of India].” Again, the government had high stakes in the project. The death of Dubey may have been caused by the circulation of his letter by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Dubey’s case is essentially a whistleblower’s story. Many individuals’ actions parallel to the bravery of Dubey’s. One individual is Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers that detailed how the U.S. government lied about aspects of the Vietnam War . Another individual is Ed Turner, who refused to approve certain road projects. Lastly, Roger Boisjoly tried to stop the launch of the Challenger, despite adversity. All of these people risked everything, and were met with negative consequences. Ellsberg was put on trial; Turner lost his job; and Boisjoly was shunned by his co-workers and eventually resigned. However, these consequences were not as dire as Dubey’s, who lost his life in fighting corruption.
There are many other cases that involve whistleblowers. For more such cases in this Wikibook, see:
- Bill Joy and Technological Risks
- Cynthia Cooper and Worldcom
- David Franklin, Parke-Davis, and Neurontin
- Ernest Fitzgerald and the Lockheed C-5A
- Frederic Whitehurst and the FBI
- Jeffrey Wigand and Brown & Williamson
- Joe Darby, Samuel Provance, and Abu Ghraib
- Mark Klein and Room 641A
- Myron Mehlman and Mobil Corporation
- Peter Buxtun and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study
- Peter Rost and Pfizer
- Sherron Watkins and Enron
- William LeMessurier and the CitiCorp Building
Lessons or Conclusions
There are many lessons that this case teaches about professionalism. One is that being ethical can be fatal, which leads to the question: Should a professional be willing to die for a cause? Some consider that self-sacrifice is a heroic act. In other cases, some argue that professionals do not have an obligation for unrealistic self-sacrifice. Another lesson is that corruption is often institutionalized. Normalization of deviance plays a huge role in allowing corruption to spread and usually leads to future disasters. Most likely, a professional will face corruption in the work place, which leads to the question: What should a professional do in the face of corruption? Many groups have been formed to fight corruption, such as Global Witness, Group of States against Corruption, and Transparency International. While these groups show a strong backlash against corruption, corruption is still intact. Ultimately, Dubey’s actions did not dispel corruption in India. Yet, his actions have spurred individuals from many countries to fight against corruption, and that is a step in the right direction.
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