Says it’s too late to act against the Deputy Chief Minister

By intervening with legal opinion that is favourable to Deputy Chief Minister R. Ashok in a case pertaining to the Lokayukta’s findings that he had filed false affidavits about his income in 2003 and 2007, the Law Department appears to have given him a reprieve. The department’s opinion, top sources in the Vidhana Soudha say, rests on its contention that since the alleged crime of Mr. Ashok, who holds the Home and Transport portfolios, happened more than three years ago, it is barred by limitation (of time).

The Lokayukta’s investigations in the Lottegollahalli land denotification case resulted in the finding that Mr. Ashok declared two false affidavits, once as a BJP legislator in 2003 and the other in 2007. The false affidavits enabled Mr. Ashok to circumvent Section 79 A of the Karnataka Land Reforms (KLR) Act, 1961, which prohibits a person whose annual non-agricultural income is more than Rs. 2 lakh from purchasing agriculture land.

On December 16, 2011, Lokayukta Additional Director-General of Police H.N.S. Rao, wrote to Chief Secretary S.V. Ranganath asking him to initiate action against Mr. Ashok. The letter, a copy of which is with The Hindu said: “Accused number one Ashok has violated Section 79 A of Karnataka Land Reforms Act 1961 and Sections 177 and 181 of the Indian Penal Code. Confiscate the land in question and initiate action under section 195 of Cr. PC. Inform this office on the action taken.”

Mr. Ashok was found to have bought two pieces of land measuring 9.12 guntas (Survey No. 10/1) and 14 guntas (10/11 F) in Lottegollahalli village of Kasaba hobli in Bangalore North taluk. He executed affidavits that showed his family income to be less than Rs. 2 lakh from sources other than agricultural income. In the affidavit filed on February 26, 2003 while registering the 9.12 guntas plot at the Peenya sub-registrar’s office, he declared his income from sources other than agriculture to be Rs. 1 lakh. In the other affidavit filed at the sub-registrar’s office at Hebbal on November 12, 2007, he said his family income was Rs. 1.6 lakh.

The Lokayukta sleuths detected significant discrepancies between what Mr. Ashok filed in his counter-statement before the agency on November 28, 2011 and the affidavits he filed at the sub-registrar offices. They assessed his family’s average annual income in the five years preceding the acquisition of the 9.12 gunta plot in 2003 to be Rs. 2,62,970.

In the case of the second plot, they assessed the average annual income in the five years preceding 2007 to be Rs. 3,62,434.

The Lokayukta probe conducted by Deputy Superintendent of Police Abdul Ahad was triggered by a private complaint filed before the 23rd Additional Civil Court by social activist Jayakumar Hiremath. He alleged that Mr. Ashok and the former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, in collusion with two others, denotified the two plots of land at Lottegollahalli, thereby violating Section 9 of Karnataka Land (Restriction on Transfer) Act 1991.

Contentious opinion

A senior official in the State Secretariat told this correspondent that the Law Department’s opinion was based on the premise that no complaint was filed against Mr. Ashok within the three years of the alleged crime. “Moreover, the Law Department has said that with respect to confiscating the land, no action is required since Mr. Ashok has already returned the land,” he said. However, this interpretation goes against the legal principle that the three-year limitation starts not merely from the date of the commission of the alleged crime but from time it is detected as a crime by a police official or by the aggrieved person. If this is so, it would stand to reason that the three-year limitation period with reference to Mr. Ashok’s violations, which were detected by the Lokayukta officials in October-December 2011, would end only in late 2014.

The offices of two Chief Ministers, the former Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda (who also held the Revenue portfolio) and the current Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar were aware of this case. The file was pending at the Chief Minister’s office since May 26 2012, an official said.

The file (No. RD 145 LRA/12) was returned to the Revenue Department only in February 2013.

However, Wing Commander G.B. Athri (Retd.) and Mr. Hiremath embarked on a year-long exercise to dig out the truth, using the RTI as an effective tool. Incidentally, Wg. Cmdr. Athri had unsuccessfully contested against Mr. Ashok in Padmanabhanagar Assembly constituency in 2008.

Land returned

According to sources, the Chief Secretary’s office has asked the Revenue Department to ascertain whether Mr. Ashok has indeed returned the land to the government.

“Once we satisfy ourselves that the land has been returned, we may close this file. However, the legal opinion is subject to the scrutiny by courts if any person questions the legal opinion,” the official conceded.

A source in the Revenue Department said the department would ask the Bangalore Development Authority to ascertain if Mr. Ashok has returned the land to it.

Interestingly, amidst a public uproar over the issue in 2011, Mr. Ashok returned the land to the BDA — in the form of a gift deed. The RTC (record to rights, tenancy and crop) document of the land in question shows the changed ownership — from Mr. Ashok to the BDA since September 9, 2011.

Asked about the legal opinion of his department, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs S. Suresh Kumar said: “Legal opinions do not come to me. I have no idea.”

Repeated attempts to contact Mr. Ashok directly and through his press secretary failed.