In a major setback to the State government, the High Court of Karnataka on Thursday set aside the constitution of a separate Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), under the direct control of the Chief Minister, in 2016 by withdrawing the powers vested with the Karnataka Lokayukta (KL) police wing to probe all cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 against public servants.
“The State government is not justified in constituting the ACB by an executive government order, dated March 14, 2016 exercising its executive power under Article 162 of the Constitution of India when the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984 has occupied the field to eradicate corruption in the State...,” the court observed.
While declaring that the ACB stood abolished with immediate effect, the court restored the power to investigate the corruption cases in Karnataka to the KL police wing as it existed prior to the creation of ACB.
The court also made it clear that all the pending inquiries, investigations, and cases being prosecuted by the ACB got transferred to the KL police wing for further action as per the law.
A Division Bench, comprising Justice B. Veerappa and Justice K.S. Hemalekha, delivered the judgment on three separate PIL petitions filed by Chidananda Urs B.G., the Advocates’ Association, Bengaluru, and Samaja Parivarthana Samudaya, an NGO, and a batch of petitions filed by public servants questioning the powers of the ACB.
‘CM is supreme’
“On careful perusal of the impugned executive order, it also clearly depicts that Chief Minister is supreme and absolutely there is no independent application of mind by the State government as it was issued merely based on the recommendation made by the Director-General and Inspector-General of Police (DG&IGP),” the Bench observed.
Except stating that the government had realised the necessity of a strong and effective vigilance system in addition to Lokayukta, no other reason had been assigned for creating ACB as a parallel to the institution of Lokayukta, the Bench pointed out.
It is not the case of the government that either the KL police wing was ineffective in implementing Prevention of Corruption Act or the Lokayukta or the Upalokayukta had expressed difficulty to take the burden of Prevention of Corruption Act, the Bench said.
Who will act against CM?
While noticing that the Karnataka Lokayukta Act had provisions to probe corruption cases against the Chief Minister, Ministers, and members of the legislature, the Bench pointed out that it was not forthcoming in the executive order as to who was the authority to take action, in case the Chief Minister, a Minister, a member of the State legislature, etc., were involved in corruption and favouritism.
If really the government intended to curb corruption, favouritism and indiscipline in the administrative machinery, the court said, the ACB should have been allowed to work under the control of Lokayukta instead of the Chief Minister as stated in the executive order.
“Therefore, there is more scope in the executive order for the political influence and the Chief Minister in power can misuse ACB to control his opponents within his party or the opposite parties. The conditions of the executive government order clearly depict that there is a possibility to favour the party in power or the partymen,” the Bench observed.
“The executive government order constituting ACB empowers the Chief Minister to veto investigation or the sanction of investigation. This itself defeats the very purpose of the anti-corruption drive and ACB is not at all an independent body,” the Bench observed.
It also pointed out that the government withdrew its 1991 and 2002 statutory notifications of empowering of KL police wing to probe cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act and declaring KL police office as “police station” without consulting the Lokayukta.
The Bench said: “It is most unfortunate that even after lapse of 75 years of Independence, no political party in the country is willing or dare enough to allow independent authority like the Lokayukta to discharge its duties in a transparent manner in the interest of public at large.