Corruption charges dent Karnataka Lokayukta’s image

Karnataka lokayukta justice Y Bhaskar Rao, mobbed by protesters and media outside his office, in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Photo: K. Murali Kumar  

Reality is that India has often excelled at turning critical institutions into romantic illusions with nothing but a glorious history, why should the office of one of the oldest Lokayuktas in the country be any different?

Karnataka was one of the first States in India to implement the idea of a Lokayukta in 1984. As recently as 2011, former Lokayukta of Karnataka Justice Santosh Hegde’s reports on illegal mining led to the end of arguably the most powerful illegal mining mafia in the country, led by Gali Janardhan Reddy and his brothers. In the same year, the anti-corruption ombudsman’s report on land de-notification, led to the resignation of B.S. Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister.

Such cases gave it the reputation of being one of the strongest Lokayuktas, but in the last few days that reputation has been severely eroded if not destroyed.

In May, an executive engineer of the State government “orally complained” to the Superintendent of the Lokayukta police, Sonia Narang, that he was called to the Lokayukta office and a person claiming to be joint commissioner had threatened to “fix” him with a raid if he did not pay Rs. 1 crore.

Following this, Ms. Narang reported the matter to Registrar and Additional Director General of Police, Lokayukta Prem Shankar Meena. According to sources, the Lokayukta police have received similar complaints from other officials who claimed to have received threatening calls and met the Lokayukta Mr. Bhaskar Rao’s son Ashwin Rao.

When the issue was brought before one of the two Upa Lokayuktas, Subash B. Adi, on June 23, he ordered Ms. Narang to probe the matter.

The Lokayukta made matters worse by issuing a press release on June 26, stating that the probe will be handed over to IPS officer M. Chandrasekar who heads the Central Crime Branch of the Bengaluru police. Embarrassingly enough, Mr. Chandrasekar’s father-in-law is being probed by the Lokayukta and the officer himself had to write back citing conflict of interest!

It is not clear why the Lokayukta chose to declare a specific officer’s name to handle the case, especially one whose relative was being probed by his office or why he did not consult the other Upa Lokayuktas before issuing the statement. Further embarrassment was that Upa Lokayukta Subash. B. Adi publicly demanded that a CBI probe be conducted.

Finally, on June 28, the Lokayukta wrote to the government to order a “probe by any independent agency” and a clueless Chief Minister said: “Lokayukta is autonomous and we cannot interfere in its affairs.” Finally, the government ordered a Special Investigation Team to probe the matter.

In the midst of this, Ms. Narang has been ordered by the Upa Lokayukta to continue the probe.

Resignation demanded

Aghast at the turn of events, civil society activists have demanded the Lokayukta’s resignation. Some activists even claimed that they had warned the Lokayukta about “a relative” misusing his office.

The Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984 provides for the impeachment of the Lokayukta, but there is no provision which deals with probing the Lokayukta office. An obviously worried Mr. Santosh Hegde lamented: “May be those who wrote the law did not foresee a situation where the Lokayukta office itself will come under suspicion for corruption.”

What happens when the institution meant to root out corruption becomes corrupt? There is no precedent. And it is not clear if a probe by the Special Investigating Team of the State police would be considered the right way forward or how far they can proceed.

“Since the State police and other government offices are constantly probed by the Lokayukta, they may not be in an ideal position for an independent probe. It is only the CBI that would be an independent agency in this matter and the State government should have referred the matter to it” says Mr. Hegde.

Legal opinion divided

Legal opinion is divided and questions have been raised on whether the Lokayukta should have written to the Governor instead of the government. It is simply dangerous to leave these issues without clarity and it is imperative to have procedures written in stone.

Is it not common sense that the Lokayukta’s office, like Caeser’s wife, remain above suspicion? This is not a battle of facts or arguments. It is a matter of perception, one of faith. And, perception and faith are intangibles: the Lokayukta should not only be honest and upright, he should be seen as being so, else he can’t occupy the office.

It is certainly not wise to leave such issues to the prerogatives of individuals and appeal to their conscience, especially as increasingly conscience seems to have little meaning in our society. The lowest government servant can be suspended till his name is cleared in a probe; should the rules be different for others?

In the absence of clarity, it may be time to remember a fine song from the 1971 Rajesh Khanna starrer 'Amar Prem'. The lines capture a very pertinent question facing the Lokayukta. “Chingaari koi bhadke to saavan use bujhaaye, saawan jo agan lagaaye use kaun bujhaaye”(If a spark flares up, then the rains might extinguish it; but if the rains light a fire, who can put it out?)

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 12:55:37 PM |

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