Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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There appears to something terribly wrong with the governance of our unfortunate nation, that we cannot even ensure that our Lokayuktas are made of sterling stuff, without a single particle of any base metal. What I write today makes me ashamed of myself.
I wish to take my readers back to my piece, ‘A Requiem for the Karnataka Lokayukta’, that I placed in my blogspot on December 7. I am happy that soon after publication of the article, Shri Bhaskar Rao resigned from the post of Lokayukta on December 9, 2015 and further that the SIT constituted to investigate into this matter requested the Karnataka Government to issue a sanction order to prosecute him, something still pending with the Karnataka Government. Recent events in the Congress ruled State of Karnataka have completed the Lokayukta’s funeral rites.
After the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984 came into force, the anti–corruption work in Karnataka was being done by the Police Wing which formed a part of the organization. The Lokayukta organization had under it an Administrative Wing, an Enquiry Wing, a Technical Wing and the Police Wing.
The Police Wing carried out enquiries entrusted to it by the Lokayukta, or Upalokayukta, and also implemented the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 through their units located throughout the State, which had been declared as Police Stations. In this arrangement, the officers working in the police wing were treated as staff of the Lokayukta and enjoyed certain protection for enabling them to act without fear in the discharge of their functions as per Section 15(2) of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act. This protection deterred the Government of the day from interfering or pressurizing the police wing of the Lokayukta in the course of investigation. The only weapon that the Government possessed was to withhold sanction to prosecute the accused government servant, which was used abundantly.
Suddenly on 14-3-2006, Shri Siddaramiah’s Congress Government issued a Government Order, that brings the entire anti corruption work under the sole control of the Chief Minister. As per Para 4 of the GO, orders declaring the police wing of the Lokayukta in Karnataka as police stations will be withdrawn, and a separate Anti Corruption Bureau, (ACB) will be established, and officers of this new Bureau will be declared as Police Stations. As per Para 5 of this GO, the ACB cannot investigate any matter concerning a public servant without the approval of the appointing authority, who is clearly the Chief Minister. More importantly, as per Para 6 of the GO, all cases pending investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, and pending prosecution under the present police wing of the Lokayukta will be transferred to the newly created Bureau. As on date, there are several important cases pending investigation and prosecution in the police wing against important politicians, bureaucrats and police officers. They must be heaving a sigh of relief.
A reading of the Preamble of the GO indicates that the Government of Karnataka has relied heavily on a report of the DG & IGP Karnataka dated 3-2-16, which the Finance Department has agreed to on 4-3-16, after which it has issued the GO on 14-3-2016. Such rare urgency and efficiency is not often seen on public issues of greater importance requiring immediate attention and solution.
The DG & IGP’s Report of 3-2-16 appears to state that it was inspired by a Supreme Court decision of 1998 (C Rangaswamiah vs Karnataka Lokayukta (1998) 6 SCC 66), 18 years ago. This seems to have engaged his urgent priority, notwithstanding incomplete investigations and prosecution of important cases, such as, the Cricket Stadium bomb blast case, or the Kalburgi murder case that even today remain unsolved. The Preamble suggests that the DG & IGP’s report has stated that there is no system of supervision of the investigations of the cases under the PC Act in the Lokayukta. Nothing could be more incorrect. Lokayukta investigations are done by an Inspector, Dy SP, sometimes by the SP, and all such investigations are supervised by the DIG, IGP, and Additional DGP, whose officers have been declared as Police Stations.
While pretending to strengthen anti-corruption work under the PC Act 1988 as claimed in the Preamble, a closer scrutiny of the GO reveals the exact opposite. As per Para 2 of the GO, the Anti Corruption Bureau headed by the ADGP and his subordinates will work under the control of a Secretary level officer of the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms (DPAR), and will report to the Chief Secretary, who in turn will report to the Chief Minister. By this, it is virtually the Chief Minister of Karnataka who will control all anti corruption operations in Karnataka.
Para 11 of the GO gives no clue of how complaints of corruption against the DG & IGP, or the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary, Principal Secretaries of the Finance Department and DPA will be dealt with. These are all members of the Vigilance Advisory Board. And most importantly, the GO does not stipulate how complaints of corruption against the Chief Minister and other Ministers of the Karnataka Government will be dealt with, since the powers to investigate complaints under the PC Act have all been removed from the police wing of the Lokayukta by this GO.
There is no mention in the GO whether this new arrangement regarding the staff of the Lokayukta, which includes the police wing, was discussed with the Upalokayukta, (Karnataka still has no Lokayukta) as is mandatory under Section 15 (2) of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1986.
It is not difficult to see what lies beneath this GO. Creation of this ACB gives a direct handle to the CM, the ultimate authority of the ACB, which he can use to protect himself against corruption allegations, against dissidents within his own party, against difficult opposition members who can cause him problems, and against honest bureaucrats and police officers who choose to do their duty against political pressure. It is not difficult to get vexatious corruption complaints filed against them with the ACB, directly under his control, and get cases registered against them. That will take care of them for the immediate future.
The Chief Minister of Karnataka has indeed armed himself with a double-edged deadly weapon – to destroy opposition and to protect corruption in a gross misuse of executive power.
My thesis is in complete conformity with the views of prestigious and fearless sections of the press and other media. My thoughts are also echoed by my old friend Santosh Hegde whom I greatly respect.
Let us see how this pernicious, devious move by Siddaramiah is countered politically or by vigilant civil society organizations.