Lokayukta conundrum in Karnataka

It is time to write down the procedures to adhere to when a predicament arises involving the kin of Lokayukta in corruption scandals.

The Karnataka legislature is deliberating bringing substantial amendments to various provisions of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984, including the removal of Lokayukta to resurrect the confidence of citizens shocked by allegations against the present Lokayukta. It is alleged that the Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao’s son, Ashwin Rao, had misused his father’s authority and extorted money from various government officials after he intimidated them with criminal proceedings.

Chaitra V.

For the first time, the State government is in a quandary over the need to remove a sitting Lokayukta from office, which is a complex task owing to the lack of a precedent. The Opposition in Karnataka has sought removal of the Lokayukta through the impeachment process. While provisions exist to remove a Lokayukta in case of direct allegations of misconduct or corruption, the confusion arises when his kith or kin are allegedly guilty of abusing his office.

Undoubtedly, the Lokayukta can be removed from office — according to Section 6 of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984 — by an order of the Governor passed only after an address by the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council and supported by a two-thirds majority. The grounds for removal would be “proved” misbehaviour or incapacity. The notice for motion to present an address can be admitted only when signed by not less than 50 members if introduced in the Legislative Assembly or not less than 15 members if the notice is to be introduced in the Legislative Council.

Subsequent to the approval of notice of motion for presentation of an address, the Chairman or Speaker as the case may be, shall constitute a committee to investigate charges of misconduct. If the investigation finds the Lokayukta guilty, then the matter is debated in both houses with an opportunity being given to the Lokayukta who faces impeachment, to rebut the charges either in person or through his representative.

However, if the House decides to put the motion to vote, the resolution has to be passed by two-thirds majority in both the houses, during the same session. The resolution is then directed to the Governor, who orders removal of the Lokayukta.

But, in this case, the impeachment is not valid as the accusations are not directly levelled against Justice Bhaskar Rao and no concrete evidence is yet available to directly implicate him.

To ease the present process of removal of the Lokayukta by impeachment, one of the amendments envisaged by the Cabinet recently was to allow the motion of the removal of Lokayukta to the Governor provided there is a consent of 1/3rd of members of both the houses. This is surely a step with a noble intention. But this might backfire in future if a political leader who commands 1/3rd support of the members in both the houses is accused of irregularities by the Lokayukta and the political leader decides to move a motion of impeachment against the Lokayukta just to wriggle out of the investigation.

However, the State government has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising State police officers on the request by the Lokayukta to appoint an independent agency to probe the allegations. The Lokayukta is entitled to ask for an external probe if he thinks he is being framed and intends to come out clean. But the extent, magnitude and authority of the probe have to be decided by the State government. The SIT now formed reports to the State, which itself is accused of being a party to this scam. This might render the probe redundant. Hence, a court-monitored SIT or handing it over to the CBI would have been a more honest decision to make on the part of the State government. The Chief Minister is not correct to say that he lacks the authority to appoint a Central agency such as the CBI to probe allegations levelled against the Lokayukta’s son when the Lokayukta himself requested the Government of Karnataka to appoint any external independent agency to conduct an enquiry.

Clearly, an SIT that comprises purely State police officers will be constrained to make an impartial probe given the harsh realities of political interference. The fact that police reforms have not been implemented in toto in Karnataka only proves the point that political interference persists in police work. Therefore, in the prevalent political environment where the State police are seen as being beholden to their political masters, the only effective probe possible would have to be conducted by the CBI or an SIT formed under the supervision of the court.

It is time to write down the procedures to adhere to, when such a predicament arises involving the kin of Lokayukta or Upa-Lokayukta in corruption scandals. In such cases, the government must be empowered to mandatorily hand over the matter to the investigating agency of the Central Government or SIT formed under the supervision of the court to avoid any conflict of interest. The Karnataka Lokayukta that was profoundly held in high esteem and honour when led by Justice Venkatachal and Justice Santosh Hegde is testimony to the fact that however good an institution may be, it is not immune to the practice of possible misuse of office.

(Chaitra V. is assistant professor at School of Law, Christ University, and a research scholar at National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. Email:

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 5:37:51 PM |

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