In a major reprieve to the former Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday quashed a portion of the Lokayukta report accusing him of corruption in grant of mining leases in favour of two companies, the sanction given by the Governor to prosecute him based on the report, and the First Information Report registered by the Lokayukta police against him.
“He was condemned unheard as the Lokayukta violated principles of natural justice by not issuing notice to him before making the accusation,” a Division Bench of Justices K. Bhaktavatsala and K. Govindarajulu said on Mr. Yeddyurappa's petition challenging the report.
No material was produced by the Lokayukta to establish that Mr. Yeddyurappa had favoured any company. The portion of the report titled ‘South West Mining Limited (SWML)', referring to corruption charges against him, was not within the scope of the reference made by the government for inquiring into illegalities in mining, the Bench said.
“Even during the arguments on the petition, a specific question was put to counsel for the Lokayukta [asking him] to produce any material to connect the petitioner with the alleged offence but he was mum.”
The Lokayukta report said the Prerana Education Trust, owned by the family members of Mr. Yeddyurappa, and his kith and kin, had received Rs. 30 crore (Rs.10 crore as donation to the Trust and Rs. 20 crore for land sold by his kith and kin at a price far above the market value) from SWML. The report pointed out that there was a possibility that money was paid to ensure that the State gave a favourable opinion to the Government of India for grant of a mining lease. The Lokayukta report recommended criminal proceedings against Mr. Yeddyurappa under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Pointing out that it was a fit case to seek Mr. Yeddyurappa's response to the allegations, the Bench said both authorities (the Lokayukta and the Governor) failed to follow the principles of natural justice.
“Suspicion cannot be a ground to tarnish the image and reputation of a person holding a constitutional post,” the court said.
Turning down the argument that there was no need for issuing him notice before submitting report as it had not directed the petitioner to vacate his office (as Chief Minister), the Bench said this plea would not hold water. For, the petitioner was Chief Minister when the report of his indictment was leaked through the media and dust was kicked up in political circles. On moral grounds, the petitioner quit the post.
The High Court verdict comes even as the Supreme Court recently sought the view of its Central Empowered Committee on referring to the CBI the accusation made against Mr. Yeddyurappa in the Lokayukta report.
The former Chief Minister is facing a string of other criminal cases for alleged corruption in denotification of land which are at various stages before the Special Lokayukta Court in Bangalore.