Lokayukta Scam: How the Karnataka CM is supporting a corrupt father-son duo
- Karnataka Lokayukta Bhaskar Rao\'s son Ashwin is accused of a multi-crore scam
- Ashwin allegedly extorted money from officials
- Rao is hanging on to his chair because a Lokayukta can only be impeached by the state legislature
- He has gone on leave, while his son is absconding
- CM Siddaramaiah wants to use public revulsion against Rao to dilute the Lokayukta Act
- The proposed amendment will make it easier to impeach the Lokayukta
- But it will also take the CM, ministers and MLAs virtually out of its purview
- It lowers the qualifications required to be the Lokayukta
- It is alleged that this amendment is part of a quid pro quo between the CM and the Lokayukta
- Rao has recently gone soft on Siddaramaiah in a couple of cases
- In return, Siddaramaiah has not done enough to remove Rao from his post
The Karnataka Lokayukta Act, enacted in 1984 when Ramakrishna Hegde was the chief minister, is hailed as a model legislation for the entire country. But if present CM Siddaramaiah has his way, it will no longer be.
Unable to get rid of the controversial Lokayukta, Justice Y Bhaskar Rao, whose son has brought disgrace and disrepute to Lokayukta through his corrupt deals, the Siddaramaiah government is cleverly using public revulsion to weaken and emaciate the institution itself.
Rao's son Ashwin's multifarious deals of blackmailing and extorting officials, estimated at around Rs 200 crore in some circles, are all over the local media; street protests attended by eminent persons are a daily occurrence, but Rao is shamelessly hanging on to his office like a limpet. He has gone on brief leave, and his office is guarded by the police, but he refuses to quit.
To give the institution sufficient stature and clout, the Act required the Lokayukta to be a former judge of the Supreme Court, or the former chief justice of a high court. The incumbent could be removed only through the process of impeachment in the state legislature.
Under Justice N Venkatachala and Justice Santosh Hegde, the Lokayukta had earned a reputation of being the slayer of hundreds of corrupt officials and politicians, that culminated in the brief jailing, resignation and ongoing prosecution of the then-chief minister BS Yeddyurappa.
But now, on the pretext of making it easier to remove Rao, the Siddaramaiah government has prepared a draft amendment to the Karnataka Lokayukta Act that not only devalues the institution, but, in future, offers near-complete immunity to the CM, ministers and legislators from the Lokayukta and the Upalokayuktas.
The draft Bill, currently before the state legislature now in session, lowers the qualification required for the appointment of Lokayukta from a former Supreme Court judge to any high court judge with five years' experience, and for the Upalokyaukta from a former high court judge to 'any public person' who has worked for about 25 years as an anti-corruption activist, administrator or a lawyer.
"This is a diabolical ploy to completely to dilute the Lokayukta and put the flunkies of the government in the institution, so that there will be no more corruption cases coming out into the open and bringing a bad name to the government," a senior advocate told Catch.
Under the existing Act, the Lokayukta can initiate action against any public servant or people's representative based on a complaint, and initiate investigation through raids or 'traps'.
Henceforth, the Assembly will have to give its approval before taking up any complaint against the chief minister. The Speaker is the competent authority to give the nod for taking up any complaint against an MLA, and the legislative council chairman in the case of MLCs.
A draft amendment to the Lokayukta Act devalues the institution and offers immunity to the CM and MLAs
Analysts say it's completely illogical to expect any legislature to vote against a chief minister, who enjoys majority support.
The Lokayukta, under Santosh Hegde, came to be admired by the public because he entertained hundreds of public grievances like people not getting admission, or being overcharged in hospitals and colleges, officials demanding bribes for doing routine work and so on.
But the new amendment wants to dispense with the Lokayukta or Upalokayuktas dealing with cases of maladministration and public grievances. An important redressal mechanism is being removed, which will obviously delight the slothful government officials and employees.
On the removal of the Lokayukta, the government has proposed that based on a resolution signed by one-third of the members, an impeachment proceeding can be taken up for discussion in either of the houses of legislature.
But the resolution has to be first submitted to a committee constituted by the chief justice of the High Court for his perusal of the complaint and approval for admission.
The draft Bill also wants to strip the Lokayukta of the powers to approve or reject the government's suggestion to entrust an inquiry to a particular agency.
Quid pro quo
In Bhaskar Rao's case, the government's decision to accept his recommendation to constitute a special investigation team (SIT), rather than act on an FIR filed by Lokayukta SP Sonia Narang, is working to his advantage.
The SIT, 'controlled' by the government, has so far arrested four persons but is silent on 'Accused No.1,' Ashwin Bhaskar Rao. There is speculation that he would have flown out of the country by the time the SIT mustered up the courage to arrest him.
Siddaramaiah's 'soft corner' for Rao is also seen in the context of the Lokayukta recently passing two orders favourable to the chief minister.
The govt has proposed that Lokayukta impeachment can be begun through a resolution signed by one-third of MLAs
In the Lalbagh Siddapura nursery case, Siddaramaiah was accused of permitting change of land use on about 40,000 sq metres, worth several hundred crore rupees, to certain individuals.
In the Banashankari fifth stage case, his government was accused of denotifying seven acres and 15 guntas, also worth several crores. Rao, without much ado, recently closed both the cases.
Siddaramaiah is facing another complaint of having denotified around 430 acres in the Arkavathy layout to help land developers. The Lokayukta was seized of the complaint when the Siddaramaiah government suddenly decided to set up a commission of inquiry under former judge, Justice Kempanna.
It was in clear violation of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, which stipulates that the government should seek prior permission of the Lokayukta before handing over the inquiry to any other agency.
Replying to the Lokayukta's notice in this regard, the chief minister claimed that his government had not done any wrong and urged that the inquiry be dropped. Rao didn't take a decision on this letter before he went on leave.
Whether true or not, unfortunately, a lot of people have seen a 'quid pro quo' arrangement between Rao and Siddaramaiah in protecting each other.