Sunday, July 1, 2012

Whistleblower warrior - By Whistleblower warrior Kim Arora, TNN - THE TIMES OF INDIA, MUMBAI, INDIA

Whistleblower warrior

, TNN | Jul 1, 2012, 05.06AM IST

ALIGARH: The bullets flew in thick and fast. One entered through the back of his skull and exited through his eye. Two got him on the face. Another grazed past his chest. He still retained consciousness though his early morning game of badminton was over. Lying in a pool of blood, Rinku Singh Rahi remembers asking for help. Soon, an ambulance was on its way. He survived emerging from the hospital three months later with an artificial eye, a contorted cheek and amazement at having survived.

Rahi is no gangster at the receiving end of a blood feud. He is just a PCS officer doing his job playing by the rules. At the time of the shootout on March 26, 2009, he was posted in Muzaffarnagar as a social welfare officer. The attack came barely four months after he had joined service. Rahi, whose father runs a modest atta-chakki (small-scale flour mill) in Aligarh, was not even a week into his job when he began to enquire about various discrepancies in disbursement of funds of the public service schemes his department handled. It began with threats, as he recounts, from everyone including senior officers down to the accountant. Then came an incident where he was beaten up. And then, the fateful March morning. Soon after he recovered from the shoot-out , Rahi was transferred to Aligarh. Here, he is currently a course coordinator in a pre-exam training center for SC/ST IAS aspirants — a position that the 30-year-old PCS officer says is for someone at least "two ranks junior" . The nine persons charged with assaulting him are free men today.

At the training centre, Rahi arranges faculty and even teaches . He has written to a superior asking for clarity on the exact nature of his role here, and is waiting for a response. Earlier this year, he sat on a fast in Lucknow , demanding answers to the RTI he had filed enquiring about the flow of funds and several cases of missing beneficiaries.

Uncovering the siphoning off of funds meant for pensioners, says Rahi, was no rocket science. He says that there were some 63,000 pensioners on record in files. But it turned out there were actually only some 47,000. With the support of the district magistrate, Rahi managed to put the records of the pension scheme in Muzaffarnagar online. "When this happened, the accountant in my department threatened me with dire consequences if I carried on with this work. A senior official called me up and told me 'imaandari chhor do (stop being honest).' The other option he gave me was to write to him saying I can't handle the work here anymore, following which he would have me transferred," says the officer, who enjoys reading Premchand.

But what really turned the tide against him, Rahi believes, is when he made information about a scholarship scheme public. "From what I could gather, Rs 30-40 crore must have been siphoned off from this scheme. We put all the information about funds and when they were released in the public domain. I clearly told journalists that whatever file they wanted would be made available to them," he says.

Varied tactics were used to silence Rahi. He was even offered a "cut." A senior official who had the financial charge for social welfare schemes presented Rahi with a newspaperwrapped bundle full of cash. After he refused to even unwrap it, one fine evening, he was beaten up by goons on the street. "I heard one of them suggest that I be thrown in front of a truck. That would have been easy to dress as an accident. We have seen that happen in the case of Satyendranath Dubey and Narendra Kumar Singh," he says, referring to the murders of the Patna engineer and the UP IPS officer who reported large-scale corruption.

Several times throughout the conversation , Rahi says almost in a whisper, "I know this is how I will die." At the same time however , he emphasizes that his brush with death has made his resolve stronger. "People say everyone is corrupt. But even after all that has happened, I am still here. This means there is a space in the system for people like me and they do exist."

There are many who would want his tribe to increase.

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