The murder of a Karnataka audit official: Enough is enough!

According to the media enquiries, Mahantesh’s colleagues are categorical that nothing that he was working on was controversial to incur this murderous attack. More pressure needs to be mounted to ensure justice is done to a whistle blower

The brutal attack with a blunt object at 8.30pm on 15 May 2012 in Bengaluru killed SP Mahantesh, 48, the deputy director at the state’s audit watch dog, Directorate of Co-operative Audit. He was assaulted on Bengaluru’s high traffic density Palace Road, bang opposite the residence of the state chief justice, near the Police CID HQ and close to a well-known three star hotel. He was found lying injured on the road for full 45 minutes before being rushed to the hospital by the hotel staff. After battling for life for five days in a hospital ICU he succumbed to the injuries.

I’m particularly hurt because Mahantesh was an auditor. He and I belong to the same profession and he hails from the state of my birth. What is more saddening is that he had to pay an extreme price—sacrifice his life in the line of duty. To make matters worse only a few days back a forest officer Nayak, again in the same state of Karnataka, was also bashed up and killed also when he was performing his duties.

It’s high time now to say enough is enough! The neta-babu-land mafia nexus anywhere needs to be dealt summarily with an iron fist. The rot and scam go right up to the PMO and the high profile Tatra truck deal; this is only one segment of the BEML cooperative audit.  

The police, apparently at the behest of their political bosses seem to shift the focus of the probe by hinting at personal motives—“Personal angle in whistleblower’s murder: Cops. Family refuses to buy theory” blares the headline in a national daily.  The worst of all, the police are making an outrageous suggestion of “extra marital” affair as a possible motive.   They ought to have thought twice before making such a slanderous allegation without a shred of evidence—they need to substantiate this vague statement which indeed is quite damaging in its content and extremely personal in nature. It has been challenged by both his grieving family and his colleagues.

According to the media enquiries, his colleagues are categorical that nothing that he was working on was controversial to incur this murderous attack, further going on to add that in the audit system he couldn’t have done anything individually to harm anyone. The police ought not to gone into presumptive character assassination more particularly when time they claim that they are clueless in the absence of CCTV footage or witnesses.  They are deliberately down-playing that he was also attacked earlier at Bannergatta by two motorcyclists in January.   

More pressure needs to be mounted by the citizens on the state as well as Union government to ensure justice is done to a whistle blower, given the extent of institutionalized corruption, bureaucrats, this includes the auditors, who serve as checks and balances constituting vital resources, need to be protected to help in cleansing the system that is going from bad to worse. It is the duty of the state to ensure that these honest men don’t have to pay the price with their lives. This makes the enactment and immediate notification of the Whistle blowers Act enforceable without any further delay.

Today, the country’s economy is stressed, drifting away with the rupee sliding to fresh lows—falling from under Rs44 end-July 2011 to crossing the magical Rs55-to-a-dollar in May 2012, forex reserves dipping by about $27 billion; compare this with the 2008 crisis when in a period of three months September-November the depletion in reserves the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) net dollar sales, adjusted for valuation changes amounted to $50 billion. The present forex reserves inclusive of gold at $292 billion can pay for just over seven months of India’s imports, earlier they sufficed for 13 months when the Lehman Brothers went belly up. Like in 2008 there is a gradual drying up of capital inflows, unsustainable current account deficit resulting in excessive exchange rate volatility and speculative trades.

The country has had good monsoons, 2012 is expected to be better too. The food production is so great that the Food Corporation (FCI) has no space to stock the produce and millions of tonnes are simply allowed to rot. Though the government numbers indicate dismal numbers, India Inc has thrown up robust results declaring high two and three digit dividends. The cost of living, with food and milk costs shooting through the roofs nonetheless.
Call it because of policy paralysis or trust deficit, the aam admi’s confidence in the UPA-2 government’s capacity to deliver is waning fast. The country is beset with good governance issues that have caused economic slowdown.

It is only the leadership crisis at the top that is responsible for the absence of any effective steps to reign in the galloping food price rises, forex volatility, current account and fiscal deficits. There are no so-called “coalition compulsions” holding up any major decision.  It is simply a myth and bogey created by the ruling coterie to stay in power.

Unfortunately India is stuck by TINA—There’s Is No (other) Alternative factor. There is lack of effective opposition—the BJP has squabbling leaders with many PM aspirants, the Left is badly divided and the regional parties be it the NCP, Trinamool, RJD, BJD, SP, BSP, NC, DMK or AIDMK are incapable of clobbering workable coalitions. They agree to disagree even on a nominee for Rashtrapati Bhavan. This perforce leads us to another Congress-led kichdi to be led by God knows who! The Lok Pal bill is tossed around with the Congress piggy-backing on RJD and SP to shoot from its shoulders.

Dr Manmohan Singh, the finance minister of 1992 who was forced into an out-of-the box budget to usher in a better India by a determined PM leading a minority government, is today occupying the PM’s chair but  sadly unable to lead and/or deliver effectively.

The 2012 Budget was indeed a golden opportunity for reforms lost. This lacklustre budget nitpicked trivial issues like a chicken feed Rs20,000 hike in the threshold limit, Rs5,000 for preventive healthcare, Rs10,000 in the Rajiv Gandhi Yojana Investments, Rs10,000 for interest on bank savings accounts and not other interest, capital gains in SME—all meaningless freebees that make no sense in galloping inflationary conditions. The roll backs only accommodated the already rich jewellery and forex lobbies. It has done nothing whatsoever by way of incentives for industries, agriculture or exports when, this perhaps the last budget of the present FM was expected to deal with international monetary issues. Budgets from now on will be beset by state assembly and parliamentary election constraints and are not expect to any indicate any radical measures.

The government that has not been able to push through vital enactments like the Women’s Reservation Bill, the Direct Taxes Code, the Companies Bill, the Whistle Blowers Bill—all that have been cleared and only waiting to be finally presented to and voted upon by the Parliament. 

 Under the present state of governance when the governments at the Centre and states cannot take on major policy issues, it is too much to expect them to tackle issues relating to law and order  like the murders of honest officials, child abuse, scams and frauds.

The lawyer-turned-minister for HRD just on taking over the IT  portfolio under controversial circumstances simply goes on to  attack the CAG report on the scam as being “zero loss”, little knowing how many zeros make a crore!

(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based chartered accountant turned activist.)

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