Karnataka Lokayukta's son arrested. The heat is up on Rao to quit
- Ashwin Bhaskar Rao is the alleged mastermind of a multi-crore corruption and extortion racket
- He is the son of Karnataka Lokayukta Y Bhaskar Rao
- He purportedly ran the racket from the Lokayukta\'s office and residence
- He has been taken into custody by an SIT probing the case
- A special court has remanded him to 10 days\' police custody
- Bhaskar Rao\'s position is now virtually untenable
- The Karnataka Bar Council\'s protests against him have intensified
- The clamour is not just about his removal; the Bar Council wants him to be made an accused
- Under the guise of removing Bhaskar Rao, the Karnataka govt wanted to dilute the institution
- Public outcry has forced it to tone down its proposed amendments
- CM, ministers and MLAs will remain under the Lokayukta ambit without requiring legislature permission
- Process for removal of Lokayukta and Upalokayuktas has been simplified
Karnataka Lokayukta Y Bhaskar Rao's son Ashwin has remanded to police custody for 10 days. Ashwin is the alleged kingpin of the multi-crore corruption and extortion racket in the Lokayukta, and was taken into custody in Hyderabad on 27 July.
Also read: Lokayukta Scam: How the Karnataka CM is supporting a corrupt father-son duo, Karnataka scandal at Lokayukta's doorstep: how long will he last? and From crusaders to scamsters: what corrupted the Karnataka Lokayukta
The Special Investigation Team constituted by the Karnataka government to probe the scam produced Ashwin before the Special Lokayukta court of Justice GV Bopaiah on 28 July.
The judge accepted the public prosecutor's request for police custody as 'the accused is wanted in several cases of criminal intimidation of government officials and extortion of money'.
This has dramatically turned up the heat on the anti-corruption watchdog himself.
The primary players
Ashwin's major collaborator, Syed Riyaz, joint commissioner and PRO at the Lokayukta, was arrested a day earlier and produced before Justice Bopaiah. He was remanded to police custody for 10 days, despite his hysterical crying before the presiding judge and feigning illness.
Riyaz became the sixth accused to be arrested, but the first senior official of the Lokayukta.
The SIT probing the extortion racket took the alleged kingpin, Ashwin Bhaskar Rao, into custody in Hyderabad
The SIT should be able to gather a lot of information about the myriad corruption deals in the Lokayukta over the last two years from separate interrogations of Ashwin and Riyaz. It can then connect the dots, as they were allegedly the principal actors in the entire scam, operating from both the Lokayukta's office and his official residence.Sources said Ashwin has been lodged in the CID cell where Riyaz is also being held. The two will be subjected to intensive interrogation to unearth more details about the scam.
Ironically, the Lokayukta's official residence is just a few metres away from the CID cell.
Bar council protests
Karnataka Bar Council members, who had been holding demonstrations for the last three weeks demanding Rao's resignation, have upped the ante following Ashwin's arrest, now wanting the Lokayukta himself to be treated as the principal accused and arrested.
Bar Council chairman PP Hegde told Catch, "It's clear that none of Ashwin's dealings could have happened without the blessings of Rao. As we suspect Rao to be the principal beneficiary of the scam, we are no longer asking for his resignation, but demanding the state government to file cases against him and arrest him, if need be."
As the word about the Bar Council's stand spread, there were reports that Rao had asked a senior lawyer to file an application in court for anticipatory bail, but the move could not be confirmed.
Analysts say the question of filing cases and arresting Rao is not far-fetched as the Lokayukta does not enjoy any immunity from criminal proceedings.
The Karnataka Lokayukta Act mentions provisions only for removal of the Lokayukta from office through impeachment proceedings in the state legislature, and nobody ever thought of a situation where he may have to be treated as an accused.
Hegde, however, maintained that under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Rao is a public servant subject to the laws of the land, like anyone else.
"The Constitution envisages immunity from criminal proceedings only against the President of India and the governors of the states as long as they are in office. There's no such protection even to the Prime Minister. So, if there is political will, Rao can be proceeded against," he said.
No shortage of proof
The SIT has so far arrested six persons, including an RTI activist who used to collect information about major contracts in the public works department and target engineers who were executing them.
It is alleged that there is enough proof to nail both Ashwin and Riaz, who had called several engineers to either the Lokayukta's office or his residence and demanded bribes to withhold impending 'raids' against them.
On 27 July, there was a bit of drama in the special court as Ashwin's lawyer Sandeep Patil moved the court for anticipatory bail in crime No. 56, which pertained to a criminal complaint by executive engineer Krishnamurthy.
But the public prosecutor, K Janardhan, told the court that Ashwin had been booked by the SIT in a fresh case of extortion in crime No. 58, filed at Haveri district by one Chennabasappa, who had been approached with the offer of filing a 'B' report (closure of case) if he agreed to pay the money demanded.
Amendments toned down
Meanwhile, the Siddaramaiah government, which had planned a comprehensive amendment to the Lokayukta Act to cripple the institution of the Lokayukta in the guise of making Rao's removal easier, has toned down its approach considerably following public criticism and protests.
The new provisions for protection of the chief minister, ministers and legislators from the Lokayukta entertaining any complaints against them without the approval of the legislature have been dropped. The draft proposal to take away the issues of maladministration and public grievances from the ambit of Lokayukta has also been removed.
The Karnataka govt planned to dilute the Lokayukta Act, but public pressure has forced it to tone it down
On the question of qualifications for appointment as the Lokayukta, the state government has proposed that he shall be a former Supreme Court judge or a 'judge of a high court for not less than 10 years,' substituting an earlier provision of being the chief justice of a high court.
The proposal to bring in non-judicial persons as Upalokayuktas has been dropped in favour of high court judges with 'not less than five years' experience'.
Impeachment process simplified
The proposals for the removal of the Lokayukta and the Upalokayukta for 'reasons of incapacity or misbehaviour' have been simplified with adequate safeguards.
After either of the houses of legislature adopts a resolution in this regard, it will be sent to the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court to hold an investigation into the complaint(s) and send a report to the Speaker on their merits.
If the report holds the Lokayukta or an Upalokayukta guilty of the charges, the Assembly or the Council may move a resolution, supported by at least one-third of the members, and send it to the governor for effecting their removal.
The Lokayukta or the Upalokayukta against whom a resolution has been moved shall be barred from his duties during the pendency of the motion.
The Karnataka legislature is set to take up the amendments later this week, but more developments in the saga cannot be ruled out in the interim.