Governor H R Bhardwaj says his role in Bhaskar Rao’s appointment as Lokayuta was restricted to checking if due process was followed

Nearly a year-and-a-half after a media expose about illegal land allotments that forced Justice Shivraj V. Patil to resign as the Lokayukta, former Karnataka Chief Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao was appointed to the position on Thursday morning. He was sworn in by Governor H. R. Bhardwaj at a ceremony at the Raj Bhavan.

Mr. Rao’s elevation to the post of anti-corruption ombudsman too has come amidst allegations of corruption against him. In fact, he faces the same allegations that forced his predecessor to resign.

Responding to these allegations, the Governor told the media, “Nowadays [people] don’t even spare God.” He, however, clarified that it was not his job to scrutinise the suitability of a person for the post of Lokayukta. Stating that his role was restricted to verifying whether the due Constitutional process was followed in the selection, he said, “If the consultation process is vitiated or not complete, then I am well within my rights to object.”

He said, “You can’t keep the post vacant for too long. There is public outcry. In democracy, individuals do not matter; institutions matter.”

When journalists persisted, Mr. Bhardwaj said, “It is the government that has to give a suitable candidate.” He said that he had gone “from-pillar-to-post” in search of a suitable candidate but could not find anybody. He said that Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar then took the initiative to find a suitable person for Lokayukta. “I am happy that he [Mr. Shettar] took the initiative,” Mr. Bhardwaj said.

Asked why he refused to approve the candidature of retired Kerala Chief Justice S. R. Bannurmath, who also faced the same allegations as Mr. Rao and Mr. Patil, Mr. Bharwaj said, “My earlier decision had nothing to do with land allotments. Read the letter I had sent [to the Chief Minister].”

The letter written to the Chief Minister on November 15, 2011 by Mr. Bhardwaj said, “Unlike in the case of Shivaraj Patil, in the case of the present proposal [to appoint Mr. Bannurmath], even before the person recommended by the government is appointed, the controversies surrounding him are already in the public domain.” He had attached a clipping of a report that appeared in The Hindu on October 28, 2011 titled “Lokayukta nominees under a cloud” along with that letter.

Speaking to the media after his appointment, Lokayukta Bhaskar Rao refused to comment on the legal violations in the allotment of a 5,400 sq. ft. plot (number 1253) to him on November 5, 1999 by the Judicial Department Employees House Building Cooperative Society at Rs. 34.46 per sq. ft. or Rs. 1.86 lakh at a residential layout in Yelahanka. The present market value of plots is estimated to be Rs. 5,000 per sq. ft or Rs. 2.7 crore.