A new beginning to root out corruption

The decision to grant suo motu powers to the Lokayukta could be described as a new beginning to root out corruption, although credit for this should go to Lokayukta N. Santosh Hegde who had resigned to pressure the State Government to act.

It is over 24 years now after the Government diluted the powers of the Lokayukta. If Karnataka took credit for being one of the first States in the country to set up the institution of Lokayukta in 1986 in accordance with the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission headed by the former Prime Minister Morarji Desai, it was also the first State to dilute the powers of the Lokayukta by amending the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984.

The Ramakrishna Hegde Government diluted the powers of the Lokayukta in June 1986 within six months after the first Lokayukta, A.D. Kaushal (retired judge of the Supreme Court), took charge in January that year. The Lokayuktas thereafter – Rabindranath Pyne, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, and S.A. Hakim, former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, – however, did not press for special powers unlike their successors N. Venkatachala and Mr. Santosh Hegde.

Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa has granted suo motu powers to the Lokayukta much against the wishes of bureaucracy.

At the outset, it may look as a half-hearted attempt to curb corruption, as suo motu powers can be exercised only against bureaucrats and not against the Chief Minister and his Cabinet colleagues, legislators and non-official chairmen of government boards and corporations. It should be noted that corruption in which political leaders are involved stems from bureaucracy. Thus, action against one class of people connected with governance will act as a deterrent to the other. Mr. Santosh Hegde's resignation on June 23 set the ball rolling for providing more powers to the institution of Lokayukta. But what has been granted may not be to the expectations of Mr. Santosh Hegde.

Mr. Venkatachala too had sought suo motu powers. What Mr. Yeddyurappa has done is much the same as his predecessor H.D. Kumaraswamy who made a vain attempt in the last days of the Janata Dal (S)-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition Government in 2007.

The Kumaraswamy Government submitted an Ordinance to the then Governor Rameshwar Thakur on granting suo motu powers to the Lokayukta to act against bureaucrats. Mr. Thakur, however, refused to promulgate the Ordinance unless suo motu powers were given to act against both bureaucrats and political leaders. “In a way I am happy with the grant of suo motu powers, although it is not in consonance with the promise made to me when I agreed to withdraw my resignation. My responsibility has increased and I now have an opportunity to show in the last one year of my term that suo motu powers to the Lokayukta can do wonders in protecting the interests of the people,” Mr. Santosh Hegde told The Hindu.

Ever since he was sworn-in Lokayukta, Mr. Santosh Hegde has been seeking suo motu powers. What, however, had upset him the most was reinstatement of officials held on corruption charges and the action sought against a forest official who had helped the Lokayukta to investigate a major case relating to export of illegally mined iron ore.