Dubbed an iconoclast for his pro-active pursuit of cases against powerful politicians, police and bureaucrats, Karnataka Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, wants a change in laws that presume a person to be innocent till proved guilty to effectively fight corruption and official misdemeanour.
He says corruption has not come down in the country despite the fact that tough laws have been made because “nobody is serious about fighting corruption“.
“Let us forget the concept of jurisprudence that says it is better that nine guilty men are acquitted rather than make one innocent suffer. All these concepts are not relevant today. We have to change them,” Hegde, who demitted office as Supreme Court judge in 2005, told PTI in an interview.
“We have changed the laws when it comes to terrorism and corruption is definitely equal to if not not worse than, terrorism. But nobody wants to do it,” he lamented.
Hegde recently created flutters when he brought to the fore the case of an IAS official, who allegedly sought sexual favours from a widow, and was not only not acted upon but had gone up the bureaucratic ladder.
“In corruption who is involved - the one who makes the law or administers the law. So anything you do to strengthen fight against corruption is going to boomerang, it could come back,” says the 70-year-old former judge.
Hegde’s recent expose to the media of the officer promoted despite complaints of sexual harassment by a widow for transferring a plot of her deceased husband in her name has sent ripples in administrative circles, forcing the government to order a probe.
“I went to the media because I found nothing was happening. I waited for long as I tried to work within the system,” said the anti-corruption watchdog who thought that media glare will get some punitive action against the official.
Not the one to look helpless, he has through media pressure got teeth and claws to his statutory body, for which he has relentlessly been demanding suo-motu powers and making its recommendations “compulsorily implementable“.
Rubbishing claims of being publicity hungry, he said, “I go to the media because there is a lacuna in the Act”. In 90 per cent of the cases the government does not act at all, he said.
The judge, who has currently 19,000 cases pending before him, said he had received oral complaints of similar nature but many do not pursue them owing to social ostracism and fear of victimisation.
He cited an example of two girls who had come to him accompanied by a former head of the State women’s commission with a complaint.
Hegde said he had agreed to cooperate by providing equipment to record the actions, to lay the trap and arrest, but the girls did not come back.
As a former judge, he said following the steps laid down by the Supreme Court in the Vishaka case would suffice to address these problems.
“If that is put in place, that is enough. It is not that systems are not there, but systems are not working or not allowed to work, though they exist on paper,” said Hegde.
His pursuit to cleanse the system has also seen him recommend setting up an internal vigilance cell in every State department. The cell could take cognizance of complaints by residents and aggrieved employees.
“Apart from keeping record of rules, it could maintain a confidential record of all officers. We have recommended officers whose characters are suspect, their moral character, integrity, working style, all records should be maintained, which may come in handy.” he said.
This would instill a sense of responsibility, fear and accountability in officials, he said.
Though his quest for truth remains unquestionable and his pursuit for justice an uninterrupted journey, the Lok Ayukta said that sometimes he was called upon to go beyond the calling of his post and render humanitarian aid.
“I have stories that I hear everyday that could bring tears to your eyes,” he said, recounting one such tragic tale when a handicapped tailor and his wife approached him with a baby that had a deformed intestine.