Satyendra Dubey

Satyendra Dubey was born in 1973 in the village of Shapur in Bihar State, in north-central India. His parents, Bageshwari and Phulamati had a small farm but they could not earn enough from their land to support their large family — five girls and two boys. So Bageshwari had to work at another job as a clerk in a nearby sugar mill.

When he graduated from the village high school, Satyendra went to college in the city of Allahabad, about three hundred kilometers to the west. He lived alone there. His father sent him a small allowance every month. When he graduated, in 1990, he was admitted to the Indian Institute of Technology campus at Kanpur, another city farther to the west. He graduated in 1994. He was the first person from Shapur ever to do this.

With a degree from the most prestigious technical school in the country, Satyendra could have found a highly-paid job with a corporation. But he wanted to do something to help his country; so he took, and passed, the exams for the Indian Engineering Service — a department of the national government that is in charge of public building projects.

Satyendra worked in an office in the capital city, Dehli, for a few years. Then, in 2002, the Engineering Service sent him to work with the National Highway Authority. He went to Koderma in the state of Jharkhand. Koderma is on the route of a new highway being built by the Indian government. When it is finished, the road will be about 14,000 kilometers long and will cost around $US 14 billion.

The construction work was being done by private contractors who had been hired by the Highway Authority. Satyendra’s job — as Assistant Project Manager — was to supervise their work. Riding on his bicycle under a hot sun, he visited work sites several times every week — much more often than someone doing this job would normally do. He conscientiously checked to make sure the contractors were not cheating the government. When he found that they were, he took action. Once he insisted that a contractor rebuild six kilometers of the road because the job had not been done properly the first time.

He stayed in Koderma until August of 2003, when he was sent to the town of Gaya in Bihar to supervise work on another part of the road.

Satyendra first encountered corruption when he was working in Delhi: He was offered a bribe and refused to accept it. In Koderma, he began to see that the whole process of highway construction was corrupt. In Gaya, things were even worse, and he was completely disillusioned. His dream of helping his country began to fall apart.

At the beginning of the project, the government had set up a strict system of bidding to ensure that contracts were awarded only to companies that used up-to-date equipment and employed well-trained staff. But despite that, Satyendra found the work was often being done by technologically backward companies with poorly-trained staff. This was because the big companies that were given the contracts by the government were, in turn, subcontracting the work to smaller, and cheaper, contractors. Then they were stealing the money that remained.

Contractors were also presenting forged documents to prove they were capable of doing the work. And they were altering the samples of soil and rock that they had to submit to show that the road had been properly constructed. However, what troubled Satyendra most was something else: It seemed that high-level employees of National Highways Authority itself were involved in the corruption. Secret information, was getting into the hands of the contractors, and they were using this information when they wrote their bids.

Satyendra realized that to do his duty he had to become a ‘whistle blower.’ He decided to report the corruption. He wrote directly to the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and sent a copy to the chairman of the Highway Authority. He knew he was doing something dangerous. He knew there was a risk that his letter would be circulated and seen by people who were involved in the corruption. And he knew that many engineers had been murdered in Bihar in the previous ten years. So he didn’t sign the letter. But because he wanted his report to be taken seriously, he did reveal his identity in a separate note.

Satyendra was right to be worried. He soon received a letter from the ‘Chief Vigilance Officer’ at the Highway Authority reprimanding him for breaking the rules by communicating directly with the Prime Minister. He wrote a second letter in reply saying that he had only been trying to make sure the project was as successful as possible. He also said he knew that his identity had been leaked because he had been “exposed to undesirable pressures and threats.”

Soon after writing this second letter, Satyendra travelled to another city to attend a wedding. He didn’t get back to Gaya until the middle of the night, after 3:00 a.m. He phoned his driver and asked him to come and pick him up, but his driver told him that he couldn’t start the car because the battery was too low.

No one knows exactly what happened next. Satyendra didn’t arrive at his home, so his driver went to look for him and found him dead by the side of the road. He had been shot.

Satyendra’s friends — and many other people — were sure that the murder had been arranged by corrupt contractors who were angry that Satyendra had reported them, and afraid of what he might do in the future. But they could prove nothing. A rickshaw driver came forward and said he had picked up Satyendra at the station and they had been attacked by robbers on the road. But after being questioned the driver disappeared — and was not found again. Arrests were made, but only of ordinary people who apparently had no connections with contractors or government officials. In the end the police decided that Satyendra was just another robbery victim.

- information from:;;India Abroad, 03.12.19; The Indian Express, 03.12.06 (Subrata Nagchoudhury and Varghese K George); The Telegraph (Calcutta) 04.10.26, 04.01.05