Reprieve for JD(S) leader on the charge of receiving kickback
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Friday suffered a setback, with the Karnataka High Court allowing the Lokayukta police to proceed with its investigation of the allegation that he illegally dereserved forests for mining during his tenure as Chief Minister and gained financial benefit from the move through his family members.
Similarly, in Janata Dal (S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy's case, the High Court allowed investigation in connection with his decision to grant mining lease to an unregistered mining firm, Sri Sai Venkateshwara Minerals, during his tenure as Chief Minister. However, the court gave him a reprieve on the charge of accepting a Rs. 150-crore kickback from mine owners.
The High Court quashed the investigation against Mr. Krishna on the allegation that he was responsible for illegal acts of Mysore Minerals Ltd., a State Government undertaking. Only officials like managing directors and others with knowledge of the illegalities could be held responsible for them under the provisions of the Companies Act, the court said.
In his ruling in Mr. Krishna's case, Justice N. Ananda held that the allegation of dereservation of forests, on the face of it, constituted an offence and warranted investigation.
Mr. Krishna and Mr. Kumaraswamy had separately challenged the December 3 order of the Special Lokayukta Court, which referred to the Lokayukta police for investigation a private complaint filed by Abraham T.J. accusing three former Chief Ministers, including N. Dharam Singh, of involvement in the illegal mining scam.
Missing file crucial
The High Court viewed seriously the remark made in the Lokayukta report that files pertaining to the Cabinet decision (on December 16, 2002) and other orders related to dereservation of about 11,000 sq. km of forest area for mining in favour of private firms were missing, and only the notification, dated March 15, 2003, on dereservation was found in the files.
“Whether the decision to dereserve forests for mining was collective or individual; and whether criminal liability can be attached to Mr. Krishna is the matter of investigation, more particularly when Lokayukta report states that decision taken by the Cabinet was missing in the files,” observed Justice Ananda while turning down the contention of Mr. Krishna that Cabinet decision was a collective decision and not of his own.
Pointing out that the decision to dereserve forests for mining was contravention to the provisions of the Forests Act and the Rules, the High Court held that whether this contravention was deliberate or due to inadvertence could not be decided at this stage, and it required investigation.
The High Court said that though there was no allegation that Mr. Krishna directly received illegal gratification, the allegation of pecuniary benefits received by the former Chief Minister's family members fell under the purview of the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
‘No clean chit'
Justice Ananda found that Lokayukta report did not give a clean chit to Mr. Kumaraswamy. For, the report said: “Since he (Kumaraswamy) is not holding any public post under the State at present, no action is recommended. However, it is open for the Government to take appropriate action against him for his misconduct as stated in this chapter.”
Turning down Mr. Kumaraswamy's contention that it had to be the Government and not a private complainant that had to take any action, the High Court said that the Government had not taken any action within three months as per the provisions of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act. Hence, prosecution was permissible based on the Lokayukta report.
Referring to allegations of Rs. 150-crore kickback, originally made by the former Minister G. Janardhan Reddy, Justice Ananda observed: “If Janardhan Reddy had firsthand information (on kickback) he would not have kept quiet without setting criminal law into motion in this regard.”
The High Court also noticed that Mr. Reddy was unsuccessful before the High Court in his writ petition on this issue and he (Reddy) had also withdrawn (in August 2010) the petition filed before the Supreme Court on the same allegation.