Karnataka Lokayukta: An Official Extorting Agency?
“No matter how weak or inadequate the system or the statute is, if the men who work on the system are of sterling character and integrity, the same system or statute can become an effective tool to achieve the purpose for which it has been started. However, the people who run the system or work on the statute are of loose character and weak morals, then no matter how strong the system or the statute is, it will be rendered useless.”
—Dr B.R. Ambedkar
After the nation adopted the Constitution on Jan 26, 1950
These immortal words of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar aptly applies to the Karnataka Lokayukta, the state’s premier anti-corruption agency headed by the former judge of the Supreme Court Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao. Never before in the political and quasi-judicial history of independent Bharat or in any state had the premier anti-corrupt agency come under the cloud of corruption as it has happened with respect to Karnataka Lokayukta.
Bhaskar Rao’s son, Ashwin, against whom the police have filed a FIR, is alleged to have called certain top officials and engineers in various departments of the state government and asked them to cough up money to the tune of several crores, if they did not wanted a raid by the Lokayukta. It is now an open secret that this ‘sophisticated, white-collared’ extortion—a la D gang—had been going on for quite some time.
Interestingly, Ashwin is alleged to have called the corrupt and errant officials and engineers to the official residence of Lokayukta, i.e. his father Bhaskar Rao, to ‘settle’ the deal. What is not interesting but murkier and disgusting is that Bhaskar Rao had no clue of what his son was up to, as if the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, right under his nose at his government bungalow. But what is equally dangerous is that Ashwin is alleged to have summoned certain officers to the office of Lokayukta housed in M.S. Building, just next to Vikas and Vidhana Soudha to exonerate the corrupt officials after extracting the consideration.
In mid-1986, both the houses of the Karnataka legislature unanimously decided to withdraw the suo motu power that was vested with the Lokayukta to file cases, conduct trial and prosecute the public servants. It was under the Janata Party government headed by the late Ramakrishna Hegde. Many naïve functionaries questioned the wisdom of the state legislature and the then government over this move.
The idea behind withdrawing the suo motu powers that was vested with the Lokayukta was that such an enormous power and authority to decide the fate and future of government servants and politicians cannot be given in the hands of one individual, lest it leads to anarchy and chaos, should the Lokayukta chooses to act arbitrarily. Even today that suo motu powers have not been restored to Lokayukta. Going by the present murky and dangerous happenings, it appears that the decision of both the houses of legislature to withdraw suo motu powers from Lokayukta was wise and visionary.
The lid was blown off by one Krishnamurthy, an engineer who complained to Ms Sonia Narang, IPS officer and SP, Lokayukta, that a certain Krishna Rao called him and asked to meet Ashwin, son of Bhaskar Rao, if he did not wanted a Lokayukta raid on his residential premises. That was the beginning of what can be described as ‘stumbling of skeletons from the deceptive cup-board of Lokayukta Bhaskar Rao’s office and official residence.
When the issue was splashed in all the leading dailies and electronic media blared the murky details of the happenings in the Lokayukta, Justice Subhash Adi, Upa Lokayukta, ordered Sonia Narang to investigate the entire issue and file a report to him. What followed Subhash Adi’s order is nothing but an internecine quarrel between Bhaskar Rao and Subhash Adi on whether or not to investigate the issue and who has the powers what to do and what not to do.
Nauseating and disgusting are too anaemic words to describe the internecine quarrel that rocked the premier anti-corruption agency that came into existence by the act of legislature way back in 1984 when the late Ramakrishna Hegde was the chief minister of Karnataka.
While the Lokayukta statute is clear on most of the issues, the fight between the chief and his deputy is a telling comment on whether these men are really knowledgeable and wise to interpret the Act and take decisions. By hindsight, questions can be raised—valid and genuine—whether the earlier decisions taken by the institution of Lokayukta are based on merit or extraneous considerations.
While opposition MLAs and MLCs belonging to the BJP and JD (S) started collecting signatures demanding ousting of Bhaskar Rao, several voluntary organisations too urged him to resign on moral grounds. That Bhaskar Rao, a man of integrity from judiciary, can also have a feet of clay like politicians, is proved by his rather illogical, irrational and unconvincing statement. He said, “I will resign only if I am proved guilty” that made him sound and look like a politician who refuses to step down in spite of having been stripped naked in front of public.
Bhaskar Rao ought not to have taken this politician-like stance as he is supposed to be above board. This is not to suggest that Bhaskar Rao is involved in this ‘extortion racket’ but the fact that his son, Ashwin’s involvement is as clear as the daylight that too in his official residence, is sufficient reason for Bhaskar Rao to have resigned, gracefully.
While the matter rocked both the houses of legislature during the on-going session at Suvarna Soudha in Belagavi with the opposition members demanding a discussion, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah plainly told the Assembly that it was left for the Speaker Kagodu Thimmappa to decide whether debate should take place or not. “The issue is sensitive as it involves a constitutional functionary,” he said, thus washing off his hands.
Kagodu Thimmappa, on his part, was measured, responsible and matured, when he said that he will consult the legal experts including the state’s advocate general before deciding whether to allow discussion or not. His was a statesman-like response to the vociferous demand of the opposition members.
While the process to impeach or unseat Lokayukta is excruciating and cumbersome, back-channel efforts are on by the government to persuade Bhaskar Rao to ‘resign’ on his own and go quietly without making much noise. The Congress high command too is working closely towards this end—at the request of Siddaramaiah—as Bhaskar Rao happens to be close relative of former Prime Minister the late P.V. Narasimha Rao and closer to H.R. Bharadwaj, former Union law minister and Ex-Governor of Karnataka who is believed to have good rapport with Bhaskar Rao.
While the print and electronic media are making mincemeat of the Lokayukta institutions with murky details coming out almost on daily basis, the people of Karnataka are disgusted, dejected and disappointed by the turn of events. “What happens if salt loses its taste” was the question posed by many a common man after going through this tragic soap opera on their small screens and small prints.
By S A Hemantha Kumar from Bengaluru