Roopa Moudgil, the deputy inspector general (prisons) of Karnataka, made it to the national news last week for exposing the special treatment given to AIADMK interim general secretary V K Sasikala, who is lodged in Bengaluru's Parappana Agrahara central prison. The plot thickened on Monday when Moudgil was transferred from her position by the Siddaramaiah government pending an inquiry. Predictably, many television news hosts ran down the Karnataka government on Monday night for shielding the corrupt and punishing the whistleblowers.
There is no doubt that DIG Moudgil honoured her commitment to the public by throwing light on corruption in the jail system. She confirmed what has been widely known for a long time, in fact— the rich and powerful are as a matter of course given VIP treatment even behind bars, such as in the case of mafia don-turned politician Mohammad Shahabuddin, or even Sahara chief Subrata Roy.
Should a serving police officer accuse her boss of corruption and that too in the public sphere?
But it is rare for a police officer to bring such practices in prison to light, and while her commitment to justice is to be lauded, it begs the question: why didn't she use her authority to crack down on the irregularities she found during her inspections? Moudgil has an answer: her corrupt bosses did not let her put the system in order, so she decided to expose them.
And there lies the rub. Should a serving police officer accuse her boss of corruption and that too in the public sphere? Moudgil was right in writing a no-nonsense letter to her boss, DG (Prisons), about the special kitchen for Sasikala and special privileges for Abdul Karim Telgi, the fake stamp paper scam kingpin, who has been serving time in the same jail since 2007. It was also absolutely right for her to copy the letter to the home secretary and the chief secretary, especially because she had the suspicion that her senior officer in charge of the prisons of the entire state was part of the conspiracy to allow the system to be subverted. It was important that the specifics of the corruption in the system were brought to the knowledge of the top echelons in the administration.
But was it right for DIG Moudgil to note "rumours" about a ₹2 crore bribe having been given to jail authorities, and that the DG (Prisons), her boss, was the prime beneficiary? Should she have included a gossip item among the jail inmates as a substantive in her complaint? Can a responsible officer accuse her boss of taking a bribe without a shred of evidence?
That was not all. DIG Moudgil's was a confidential letter to the top bosses of the state administration. How did a copy land up with a TV channel that went about saying that DG (Prisons) HN Satyanarayana Rao took part of a ₹2 crore bribe to give special favour to Sasikala? The allegations were presented as if they were confirmed fact.
The Karnataka government has rightly issued show cause notices to both Rao and Moudgil for violating the code of conduct...[their transfers were also] necessary to ensure a fair enquiry.
Rao, who is set to retire this month and who had never faced such ignominy in his long career as a police officer, chose to rebut the charges levelled against him in the media—courtesy Moudgil's letter—by a press conference where he revealed how he had issued two show cause notices to DIG Moudgil in the recent past for not attending periodic meetings and for staying away from office for long periods without intimation or explanation.
Rao alleged that Moudgil hit him below the belt to get back at him for admonishing her on her unprofessional conduct. Moudgil, meanwhile, has denied any personal vendetta behind her attack on Rao and says she was not responsible for leaking the letter. The facts will, possibly, come out in the open when Vinay Kumar, the retired IAS officer, who has been asked by the Karnataka government to investigate the matter, submits his report in a month.
The Karnataka government's role in this unsavoury episode has come in for major criticism. The Siddaramaiah government deserves scrutiny for the conversion of the jails—what Moudgil has rightly put on record—as drug addiction centres. Siddaramaiah personally should share a part of the blame as he is also the Home Minister of the state. But the government cannot be faulted for the twin actions it has taken in the current episode. It has rightly issued show cause notices to both Rao, the DG (Prisons), and Moudgil, DIG (Prisons), for violating the code of conduct and speaking to the media making allegations against a fellow officer. If such conduct goes unchecked, then all officers would be encouraged to wash their dirty linen in public. That would lead to a virtual state of anarchy.
She should not have accused the DG of accepting a hefty bribe without substantiation. Secondly, she should not have shared the letter with the media.
The second action relates to the transfer of both the DG and the DIG. The transfers were necessary to ensure that a fair enquiry was conducted as the continuance of the two as prison officers would have vitiated the probe. Satynarayana Rao has not been given a fresh posting, presumably because he is due to retire in a few days. But DIG Moudgil has been given a prize posting for a police officer of her rank as Bengaluru's commissioner of traffic safety.
It is a reality that India's prisons are a living hell for a majority of the inmates, while the rich and the powerful manage to carve out a privileged existence for themselves even within the system by using their money and clout. To eliminate the influence of political and muscle power, the courts have chosen to shift some influential criminals from jails in their native places. Shahabuddin, the don of Siwan, was initially shifted to Bhagalpur jail, but when the reports came about his continued highhanded ways there, the Supreme Court ordered him to be lodged in the Tihar jail in Delhi.
That was the same reason why Sasikala, the powerful political leader of Tamil Nadu, was sentenced to serve her four-year prison term in a jail in Karnataka so that she could not misuse the government machinery and get special favours.
But clearly these steps are not much of a deterrent for those who have the means. Sasikala and Telgi are using their ill-gotten wealth to enjoy a privileged existence in the Bengaluru jail.
It is right for Moudgil to expose the scam, especially as she had the advantage of being an insider. But the way she went about doing it gave rise to a lot of concerns. First, she should not have accused the DG of accepting a hefty bribe without substantiation. Secondly, she should not have shared the letter with the media. DIG Moudgil has, of course, charged that her letter was leaked by Rao, not by herself. But that seems unlikely, since why would Rao choose to put himself under the scanner this way?
DIG Moudgil ought to know that she would have gone down in history as a laudable whistleblower had she demonstrated greater professional conduct.