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Bhaskar Rao finally quits. But will the Karnataka Lokayukta survive his taint?

Ramakrishna Upadhya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 12:22 IST
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The downfall

  • Fearing removal, Y Bhaskar Rao has quit as Karnataka Lokayukta
  • His son is in custody for running an extortion racket from Rao\'s office

The fallout

  • Alleging graft, Congress wants Rao\'s deputy Subhash B Adi to go as well
  • It unsuccessfully tried to make a \'tainted\' ex-judge as Upalokayukta

More in the story

  • Did Bhaskar Rao undermine corruption cases against CM Siddaramaiah and his ministers?
  • Why did the Congress try to appoint a \"tainted\" ex-judge as Upalokayukta?
  • Is the government using the Bhaskar Rao scandal to emasculate the Lokayukta?

Facing the ignominy of being removed, Y Bhaskar Rao has finally resigned as the Karnataka Lokayukta, after dragging his feet for months.

He had been on leave since July, when his son was arrested for running a blackmail and extortion racket out of the Lokayukta's office.

A Raj Bhavan communique issued today said, "The Honourable Governor is pleased to accept the resignation of Dr Justice Y Bhaskar Rao as Lokayukta of Karnataka with immediate effect."

Intriguingly, while Rao is barely gone, political machinations are already afoot to weaken the institution of the Lokayukta.

Chronicle of Bhaskar Rao's downfall

Rao's son Ashwin is currently in judicial custody, along with Lokayukta Joint Commissioner Syed Riyaz and nine other accused.

The police has filed nearly a dozen chargesheets accusing them of collecting bribes amounting to at least Rs 200 crore from corrupt officials.

The police allege that the accused brazenly operated out of the office and official residence of the Lokayukta, raising suspicions that Rao could not have been totally unaware of their activities.

Read more: Why is Karnataka Congress gunning for the Upalokayukta

Last week, the assembly's Speaker Kagodu Thimmappa had admitted a resolution moved by the BJP and the JD(S) seeking Rao's ouster. A similar notice had been given in the Legislative Council as well.

The newly amended Lokayukta Act, which simplified the Lokayukta's removal after Rao refused to quit despite serious allegations, required the speaker to write to the Chief Justice of the High Court to refer the matter for investigation.

The chief justice was to set up a panel consisting of two judges and a jurist, as stipulated in the Judges Inquiry Act of 1968, to conduct an investigation and send a report to the Speaker within 90 days.

If the panel found the charges credible, the assembly would adopt a censure motion by a simple majority and send it to the governor for assent, clearing the way for the Lokayukta's removal.

Read more: How the Bhaskar Rao case has dismantled the Karnataka Lokayukta

In Rao's case, the speaker was collecting material evidence and was planning to send the request to the governor this week.

Congress plays the spoiler?

The speaker's task, however, was complicated by the fact that the ruling Congress not only didn't support the motion for Rao's removal, but moved a resolution for the simultaneous removal of the Upalokayukta, Justice Subhash B Adi.

The resolution, signed by 78 MLAs, alleged that Adi had tried to help a state doctor, accused of committing fraud in the purchase of medicine, get a clean chit.

The party imputed motives to Adi's action as Dr Sheela Patil happened to be related to former BJP chief minister Jagadish Shettar. Adi had been appointed by Shettar.

Read more: Karnataka Lokayukta's son arrested. The heat is up on Rao to quit

Once the Speaker accepted the resolution, Adi stopped attending office from 30 November, saying he did not want to function under a cloud.

This has rendered the Lokayukta defunct, with thousands of cases piling up in the office. And with no person of authority to sign the letters, hundreds of officers facing suspension on charges of corruption, continue in their positions.

Meanwhile, the speaker has said he does not think there is enough "actionable evidence" against Adi in the documents submitted by the Congress, causing embarrassment to the government. But he hasn't yet closed the door, asking officials to find out if "there is anything" against Adi.

Weakening the Lokayukta?

When Rao's removal looked imminent, the government seemed desperate to prevent Adi from taking over the administration.

It twice sought to appoint the controversial former HC judge KL Manjunath as the second Upalokayukta to succeed the retired Justice SB Majage, but was turned down by the governor.

The governor pointed out that Manjunath, who had failed to make it to the Supreme Court after the collegium rejected his name, had a "tainted record" and his appointment as Upalokayukta would not be appropriate.

Read more: From crusaders to scamsters: what corrupted the Karnataka Lokayukta

The buzz was that some of Siddaramaiah's ministers had pressured him to bring Justice Manjunath to the Lokayukta to "curtail" Adi's powers.

It is said that politicians found it "comfortable" as long as Rao was the Lokayukta. A complaint filed against Siddaramaiah for illegal denotification of 3 acres of land was rejected by Rao while another case of denotification of 800 acres in Arkavathy did not even come up for hearing for months.

Also, complaints against ministers DK Shivakumar, Mahadevappa, KJ George, Mahadeva Prasad and opposition leaders BS Yeddyurappa and HD Kumaraswamy, among others, are pending without even having been looked into.

Read more: 'Dictator' Kejriwal is fooling Delhi with Jan Lokpal: Pankaj Pushkar

Law Minister TB Jayachandra has mooted the idea of completely revamping the Lokayukta and making it a three-member body with the members sharing equal powers. He says the government will discuss the issue at an all-party meeting before taking a final decision.

Social activist SR Hiremath, who has been fighting corruption cases in the state, however, called the minister's proposal a conspiracy to "dilute and divide" the office of Lokayukta and completely emasculate it. "We will launch a public agitation against any such move," he told Catch.

Read more: Kejriwal is ready with a draft Lokpal bill. But is it what he had promised?

First published: 9 December 2015, 1:23 IST
 
Ramakrishna Upadhya @rkupadhya9

Ramkrishna Upadhya is a senior journalist based in Bangalore, currently working with TV9. Earlier, he was with Deccan Herald, The Telegraph and The Indian Express.

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