Karnataka: A State Sans the Institution of LokAyukta?
Karnataka state seems to be is all set to earn a rather, dubious distinction of scrapping the Institution of Lokayukta, the premier agency established by an act of legislature to fight graft in government departments, if Congress MLAs succeed in getting Upalokayukta, Justice Subhash Adi removed.
Even as both the houses of the legislature have set in motion the process to remove Lokayukta Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao for allegedly shielding his son Ashwin, who is accused of demanding “protection money” from corrupt officials, recently saw a signature campaign launched by ruling Congress MLAs to remove Justice Subhash Adi from the post of Upalokayuykta. At the end of the day, as many as 78 Congress MLAs had signed the petition to be submitted to the speaker of the assembly demanding the removal of Upalokayukta.
It was all sudden turn of events on recently when a few Congress MLAs demanded that Justice Subhash Adi, Upalokayukta, be removed as he is accused of helping a woman-relative of Jagadish Shettar, former BJP chief minister and presently the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly. While both BJP and the JD (S) opposed the move of the Congress and accused the ruling party of creating a situation of No-Institution-of-Lokayukta, the ruling Congress MLAs, however, defended their launch signature campaign to oust Justice Adi.
In the event of Congress succeeding in getting the Upalokayukta removed, then it would be an unprecedented event in the history of Karnataka where both Lokayukta and Upalokayukta are made to see the exit door and the premier anti-corruption agency remaining headless—a situation where most of the politicians as well as officials would love to see, as there would no institution for the people to complain of graft against the bureaucrats and the politicians.
Till the end of the day, neither chief minister Siddaramaiah nor law minister T.B.Jayachandra had said their last word on the issue of Congress MLAs conducting signature campaign to ensure the removal of Justice Subhash Adi. “Both the houses of the legislature have initiated the motion to impeach Lokayukta Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao. I do not want to say beyond this,” Jayachandra said, by remaining enigmatic on the issue of his party MLAs signature campaign.
Unofficially and on the conditions of anonymity, the ruling Congress MLAs assert that they have the blessings of the top leaders to oust Justice Adi. ”We intend to bring Lokpal instead of Lokayukta which has outlived its utility. Lokpal will be more powerful to fight against corruption,” a Congress MLA maintained.
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the state government to probe the internal corruption within the institution of Lokayukta—Lokayukta Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao’s son, Ashiwn’s misdeeds—is in the process of taking the probe to logical end. The SIT, headed by Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Kamalpanth, has filed three charge-sheets against Ashwin, who is currently in judicial custody and lodged in Parappana Agrahara Central jail. Following this filing of charge-sheet and arrest of his son, Justice Bhaskar Rao has been on leave for the last 100 days and has never attended office. With Justice Subhash Adi also coming under cloud, a big question mark has been staring the state about the fate of the Institution of Lokayukta.
Karnataka was, perhaps, the first state to create the institution of Lokayukta by the act of legislature way back in 1984 when Ramakrishna Hegde was the chief minister of the minority Janata Party government supported by the 18-member BJP group. Many amendments were brought to the Lokayukta to remove ambiguities including the change of designation from Chief Secretary to Chief Executive Officers of the Zilla Panchayat. The designation chief secretary was meant for only the state’s chief secretary and hence the district level officers were named as CEOs.
But the biggest and most controversial amendment was effected in 1986—again under Hegde’s leadership- where the suo motu powers vested with Lokayukta Justice to prosecute the corrupt officials and politicians was withdrawn by both the houses of the legislature. The reason advanced by the then ruling Janata party government was that “it was not prudent to vest such enormous powers of initiating prosecution with one individual lest it is misused”. Following this amendment, the Lokayukta institution had to seek prior permission of the government to initiate criminal proceedings against the corrupt officials.
There may be an element of merit in the argument advanced by the ruling party in 1986 and agreed upon by the Congress, which was in the Opposition benches. But it is also true that the Lokayukta institution became toothless, as its powers were curtailed and had to be contended with only conducting raids of the residences and offices of the suspected officials. Presently, only lower level officials such as village accountants, revenue inspectors, health inspectors, can be prosecuted without out the prior permission of the government.
The process of making the institution of Lokayukta ineffective which commenced in 1986 has come to the level of removing the institution of Lokayukta, per se, lock, stock and barrel, thanks to the politicking and insecurity of the politicians.
JD (S) state president and former chief minister H.D.Kumaraswamy, however, declared that his party’s support is for the removal of Lokayukta Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao and will not support the Congress’ signature campaign to remove Upalokayukta Justice Subhas Adi. “The Congress has a vested interest in getting Justice Adi removed because it is now forced to remove Lokayukta Justice Bhaskar Rao. But we are very clear in our stand. We are for the removal of only the Lokayukta and not the Upalokayukta,” Kumar-aswamy told Uday India. Jagadish Shettar, former chief minister and senior BJP leader also echoed similar opinion. He denied that Justice Subhash Adi had helped his relative when he was the chief minister. “Congress party leaders are past masters in the art of spreading canards,” Shettar added.
At the end of the day, the Congress may not get the required support of the two opposition parties and its attempt to remove Justice Adi may fail but what is pertinent to mention here is the ulterior motive of the ruling Congress MLAs to get into tit-for-tat fight against the opposition parties on the as important and vital issue of the instution of Lokayukta.
By S A Hemantha Kumar from Bengaluru