Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Manjunathan - Soldier of Conscience

There are people who live for their jobs. And a few, very few who die for them. In the latter category you generally think: soldier. Dying to protect the Motherland. Yes, we have plenty of those, making the 'ultimate sacrifice' to protect our borders.

But Manjunathan was no soldier, he was a sales officer with Indian Oil Corporation. He did not join this company pre-warned about any mortal danger. And yet, for merely doing his job, he paid with his life.

The 27 year old IIM Lucknow graduate was murdered in UP on Nov 20. According to the first report on the matter, which appeared in the Lucknow edition of the Indian Express, Nathan had sealed Mittal Automobile Petrol Pump at Gola, about 50 km away from Lakhimpur district for adulteration of petrol.

He had also recommended cancellation of the petrol pump’s licence, said an IOC officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Consequences
Gaurav Sabnis was Manju's junior at IIM L and this is what he writes in his blog tribute: "Manju was murdered for doing his job honestly. Considering the circumstances, this case is no different from that of Satyendra Dubey".

Except this news has not yet stirred the nation's conscience. It has appeared on page 12 of today's TOI, Mumbai edition. And was reported on the CNBC ticker last night. Ironically, the same ticker reported that Captain Satish Sharma has been let off by the CBI in the petrol pump allotment scam.

Were the cases againat Sharma dropped for lack of evidence? Um, not exactly. PTI reports: After hearing two days of arguments, Special Judge Pratibha Rani accepted the closure report filed by the agency which said it was willing to wind up the cases against Sharma as the Home Ministry refused sanction for his prosecution.

The order came even as a PIL was pending in the Supreme Court against the Centre's refusal to grant sanction of prosecution on which the apex court had issued notices to Sharma, CBI and the Union Government.

The colour of money is black. So is petrol...Yahaan koi dudh ka dhula hua nahin hai. More recently, the NDA government was rocked by a similar petrol pump allotment scam.

Politicians come and go, but the Oil PSUs - the so called 'navratnas' - remain under the changul of the netas. I mean yes, they do have professional management but these professional managers - like IAS officers - are expected to function within certain boundaries.

Cross the line and well, you can see what happened to Manjunathan.

Of course, you might argue, Manju was not knocked off by the government. But those who perpetrated the crime did so to protect their 'basic right' to adulterate petrol. Their line of thought: Bhai sab karte hain... Itne saalon se kisi ne roka nahi - yeh launda kahaan se aa gaya?

The conversation from Gaurav's last meeting with Manju, a year and a half ago: We asked him how it felt to work in a PSU like IOCL. ... He shrugged. He said work was OK and all, but he felt that the business would improve a lot more if there was transparency. Apparently, part of his job was to inspect samples from petrol pumps, and report back to the company.

Well, adulteration was rampant and here is why: Manju said the reason why this adulteration happened so brazenly was that the dealers knew that no matter what happens, their licenses couldn't be cancelled. If everyone does it, how many pumps will the company shut down?

He said he usually tried to cajole, convince and scold the dealers to not indulge in such dishonesty. He said some fell in line, but most of them usually got back to the same old adulteration business. In fact Manju said, some of the petrol pump owners are downright scary.

But even he could not have imagined such an outcome. I mean, people like you and me don't consider violence as a means of settling a dispute. In UP and Bihar, it must be common enough for someone to believe he could kill an IOC officer and get away with it.

It was, in fact, pure luck that the vehicle in which the murderers were transporting the body was intercepted by the police. They had broken the signal and were speeding. Else who knows in which river or ravine the body would have ended up? And no one would be the wiser.

Aakhir kyun?

The cynical have observed that 'discretion is the better part of valour' and that Manju had no business trying to 'change the world' in the first place. Again, I would like to point out that Manjunathan did not decide to be an activist or crusader. He was merely doing his job.

As friend and classmate Sharad notes : "He received some threats from the Petrol pump owner and bribe offers too, but he refused to change his assessment".

Ho sakta hai soon enough Manju himself would have thrown up his hands and say "I quit!". I'm sure there would be no dearth of jobs - Reliance, for example would have quickly snapped him up.

The fact is, Manjunathan stuck on at IOC for 2.5 years after graduating from IIML. Despite his integrity being constantly tested. Despite being posted in UP. And that says something about the "IIM stereotype" that exists in most people's heads.

As another of his friends wrote : Manju was known to the entire batch as an awesome singer (especially for a song he used to sing with Badri aka Bhoja called Rama ho... ), with a natural feel for music and could light up your day by his presence.

That light has been snuffed. That voice has been silenced. But what he stood for - and stood upto - that, I hope will live on.

Widespread media coverage - yes of course! Let's work for that, lobby for it. But beyond the moment, I would like to see a lasting impact. For example, a case which is actually taught at b schools.

Because we all speak of 'ethics' in business. But it's a rare and extraordinary person who makes the 'ultimate sacrifice'. A sacrifice that - like that of our soldiers on a border we can't get a fix on after 58 years - simply might go in vain.


  1. Rashmi,
    I agree to your words. We need a concerted effort to fight against such gruesome acts. In fact, this news I come to know only through your blog. That is the state of importance we give to such acts that not all national newspapers reported them. We may have to fight out all these activities...

  2. I just hope he didn't die in vain, i just hop he didn't die in vain.

  3. hop=hope..sorry for the mistake.
    Problem is that as long as there are people who are ready to pay bribes, it will never stop. Life will just go on..

  4. Hi Rashmi,

    This is Govar from IIM-I. He-the-nameless who promised the IRIS writeup happens to be my neighbor... and he's promised to send it in an hour or so. I saw him writing. :)

  5. yeh laundiya kahaan se aa gaya?

    I think you meant yeh launda kahaan se aa gaya?


  6. Nandz - thanks. Corrected that!

    Anna - sure, it's not about IIM and IIT graduates working for PSUs. But it so happens that both Manjunathan and Dubey were from these institutes.

    IIMs and IITs aren't taking credit for producing people of such integrity. And it does not imply that many other IIT/ IIM grads (or anyone for that matter!) will be willing to take such risks.

    But we do feel proud - and humbled - that one such was in our midst. And we want that his sacrifice be noted - and noticed - and perhaps impact the System in some way.

  7. This is nothing new as far as oil PSUs are concerned.
    I have seen my brother(an IITian has been with an oil PSU for the past 11 years) fighting corruption, resisting these threats everyday.
    The problem is far deeper.
    Look at the whole ecosystem - the managers/sales guys/GMs are all in the bribery melting point..Ironically HPCL and IOCL CEOs are passouts of IIMs and its sad that they are too busy to control the corruption in their own cos.

    I still remember when my brother recommended his GM to delist a contractor - Next day contractor came with his father, pleading to take back his report.
    My brother refused.
    Next day, the contractor called up and threatened!!..
    My brother still refused.
    But the GM didn't. He cancelled the report and reinstated the contractor.

    Oil PSUs, in general are places where corruption and inefficiency is nurtured and protected..!!
    Sadly, they are led by IIM passouts.
    If at all we/you (as an IIM alumni) want to do something (other than write comments/blogs/watch TV ticker etc..)
    the first step is to ask the senior alumnis, the ceos of these PSUs
    who are too busy improving their Balance sheet, but just dont care about corruption..

    Take care,
    Ashish Sinha

  8. its perfect death i can say....

  9. Hello Bloggers,

    Manju has entered thousands of people's hearts when he gave his life.

    If death is the price of a cleaner system, then let it be, lets pay it.

    I salute you. Bye Manju.

  10. Anonymous2:45 PM

    a person who stood up for integrity was murdered !...a person who could ve flown out of the country for a much better job but instead chose the dusty cabins of IOC was murdered and we are doing nothing about it.. u said it right bansal, i hope beyond this moment,after all the sudden media glares, there would be a lasting impact, like a transparency which manjunathan was talkin abt... Manjunathan was a man of great honour and the least we can do is to uphold the integrity he stood for..

  11. Hundreds of honest people die being sincere. This definitely needs to be addressed but the hype is again to due to the demise of an IIM graduate *sigh*. Better late than never !

  12. Just posting a TEXT of message from Minister to his father for all to see. This has been picked up from a site of Indianoil

    Mani Shankar Aiyar,
    Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas & Panchayati Raj,
    Government of India,
    New Delhi.

    Dear Shri. Shanmugham,

    While I was out of the country, I learned with horror of the dastardly murder of your son, Shri Manjunath Shanmugham, Sales Officer of IOC at Lakhimpur Kheri. I was deeply saddened by this tragic and despicable act which snapped the life of a young and energetic officer, full of promise and character. I strongly condemn this heinous sin and offer my deepest condolences to you and other members of your family at this terrible tragedy which has befallen all of us.

    I have been informed by the chairman, IOC that all necessary action has been initiated to book the culprits of this heinous act and assistance has been extended to you. However, if you feel at any time that I can be of any assistance to your family, please do not hesitate to let me know immediately.

    Yours sincerely
    Mani Shankar Aiyar

    Shri M. Shanmugham
    400, Oil Mill Road
    Kanniyappan Mudaliar Layout
    Geeta Road Extn, Vivek Nagar
    Robertson pet, Kolar Gold Fields
    Kolar 563 122


  13. Quoting a message below once again.

    Condolence message from Parliamentary Consultative Committee

    Message : The parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas condemns the dastardly and heinous murder of shri S. Manjunath, a Sales officer of Indian Oil Corporation posted at Lakhimpur Kheri . Shri Manjunath was a bright young officer who showed great promise and potential. Apparently he was put to death for doing his work sincerely in bringing to book some dealers indulging in mal practices. The committee recommends to the Central and State government to give full support to the officer of IOC and other PSUs engaged in curbing malpractices in distribution of petroleum products to consumers and calls upon the officers of IOC and other PSUs to carry out their duties with a full senses of responsibility. The committee offers deep condolences to the bereaved family and prayers for the departed soul to rest in peace.


  14. Asish -- Your message seems to indicate that non-IIT//IIM people are all corrupt? Please change the tone of your messages. IITs/ IIMs do not make this India what it is. And for your kind information, IITs/ IIMs do not head oil companies always. You are right about today and the two companies you named. But look at the brightest star in oil PSU who can even stand up to his minister- Sri Subir Raha- he is from Jadavpur University (Engg college) & he rose from Indianoil.

    I have no intention of saying that IIT / IIM people are not capable nor do I have any intention of starting a an argument between IIT/ IIM people and others.

    But could not help react as you seem to be giving wrong impressions to the world. And do not also say that OIL PSUs are all corrupt places!!

    Somebody once said that it is easy to brag about honesty when you yourself do not get a chance to be dishonest. Look at the majoroty of people in these PSUs where people work in an environment where they meet with daily temptations to dishonesty but they resist. AND NOT ALL OF THEM ARE IITians or IIM people. Once you work in such an environment and still remain honest then you get the right to make such a SWEEPING STATEMENT THAT ALL OIL PSUs are breeding grounds for corrupption.

    Sorry for commenting. Bye

  15. I think these murders ( dubey and manju ) will not make any difference in India. The best thing is to have more transparency and open competition in all industry segments. If good petrol is avaialable in reliance and tata petrol pumps who will buy it from the Navarantna pumps.

    Paul Jacob

  16. Sir/ Madam,
    I am Amitabh Thakur, a B Tech Graduate from IIT Kanpur (1989- Mech. Engg.) and an IPS Officer of the UP Cadre (1992 batch), presently posted in the DGP Office, Lucknow. Like so many people all over the country, I have also been tracking the gruesome murder case of Manjunath with utmost eagerness. It was a matter of great solace to all of us when the Hon’ble Sessions Judge, Lakhimpur-Kheri pronounced his judgement indicting all the eight accused persons and awarded suitable punishments to each one of them.
    That Manjunath is no longer an individual, he is a symbol and he is a brand needs no further elucidation. He is an idol of this hero-starved nation. I, being one of his admirers, want to salute this great son of our country, by putting my thoughts on paper regarding the man that he was, the ideas he stood for and more specifically, the story of his confrontation with the unscrupulous petrol dealers leading to his own death followed by the subsequent investigation and trial of the matter.
    I would like to reiterate that my book is going to be one more tribute to Manjunath or Machan, as he was lovingly called by all of you. I need your help and support in this direction.
    I am writing this letter to you as an introductory one. In case you feel so, we can go on communicating further in this regard.
    As a beginning, I would request you to provide me the contact numbers; E-mails and addresses of those who you think can help me know more about Manju, the man or about that horrendous incidence.
    Amitabh Thakur
    5/426, Viram Khand,
    Gomti Nagar,
    Lucknow (UP)
    # 94159-02159


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