Last month a two member bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justice Surinder Singh Nijjar and Justice MY Eqbal of the Supreme Court of India gave it’s verdict on the civilian case of Manoj H Mishra v/s Union of India and Others. The civil suit was filed by Mishra to contest his sacking from the Kakarapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP) at Surat, Gujarat.
Mishra was working as a tradesman at the power-plant when on the night of 15 July 1994 Surat recorded an unprecedented rainfall of 480mm in 10 hours, causing massive flooding inside the complex. More than 25 feet of the turbine, adjacent to the nuclear reactors, was submerged before dawn. In fact, some of the barrels that contained nuclear waste were also washed away by the floodwater. Even though, the emergency was declared on the next day, due procedures, which includes alerting State authorities and deputing assistant health physicist to check contamination and radiation, weren’t implemented. Worried, Mishra wrote a letter to the editor of Gujrat Samachar mentioning flooding inside the nuclear facility, improper safety precautions and flouting of Action Plan for Site Emergency. Pointing towards corruption, he demanded an inquiry by a high-level committee. Subsequebntly, he was sacked by the inquiry committee for criticising the project and passing confidential information to the media.
Mishra contented this punishment in lower, high and the Supreme Court and argued that he acted as whistleblower keeping in mind the best interest of people and the nuclear facility. While dismissing his case the SC delved into the concept of whistleblower and referred to the Indirect Tax Practitioners v/s RK Jain, which defines whistleblower as “a person who raises a concern about wrongdoing occurring in an organisation or body of people. Usually this person would be from that same organisation. The revealed misconduct may be classified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations and corruption.” Following this reference Justice Nijjar observed in judgement, “In our opinion, the aforesaid observations are of no avail to the appellant. It is a matter of record that the appellant is educated only upto 12th standard. He is neither an engineer, nor an expert on the functioning of the Atomic Energy Plants. Apart from being an insider, the appellant did not fulfill the criteria for being granted the status of a whiste blower. One of the basic requirements of a person being accepted as a whistleblower is that his primary motive for the activity should be in furtherance of public good. In other words, the activity has to be undertaken in public interest, exposing illegal activities of a public organization or authority. The conduct of the appellant, in our opinion, does not fall within the high moral and ethical standard that would be required of a bona fide whistleblower.” The court further says that Mishra breached confidentiality agreement by alleging about widespread corruption in the organisation.
RTI and whistleblowers protection activists are miffed following the judgment. Prashan Bhushan, a senior advocate, who appeared for Mishra in the court, termed this judgment a “fallacy of justice”. He said, “By informing the media about the near-catastrophic accident and poor response by the authorities, Mishra did a public duty therefore he was a whistleblower.” Shekhar Singh, RTI activist, points out two dangerous points in the judgment, expertise of the whistleblower and purity in motive. He says, “What is the sort of expertise one wants to be a whistle blower? The judgement falls flat when compared to the Whistleblowers Protection Bill, 2011 as it doesn’t have any mention about the purity of intention. Important thing is to expose the wrongdoing.”