Home / Politics / Policy /  Karnataka Lokayukta fights to regain power to probe graft cases

Bengaluru: An attack on the Karnataka Lokayukta, which began in March 2016, has continued under the watch of the H.D.Kumaraswamy-led coalition government that has failed to uphold pre-election pledges to empower the anti-corruption watchdog.

The Lokayukta, which has taken the legal route to challenge the previous Congress government’s decision to take away its powers to investigate matters relating to prevention of corruption, has been reduced to probing matters relating misconduct and discipline.

Soon after the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government issued orders to establish the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in March 2016, four private petitioners filed public interest litigations (PIL) in Karnataka High Court against the directions of the state that would effectively strip the Lokayukta’s powers to probe graft cases.

“The contention of the petitioners in the PIL (public interest litigation) is that the notification related to the constitution of the police station was withdrawn as per the notification dated 14-3-2016, issued by government of Karnataka," said Venkatesh.S.Arabatti, special public prosecutor and special counsel, Karnataka Lokayukta.

A subsequent interim order of the HC also stated that the Lokayukta could probe all FIR’s filed until June 2016, but also, as a corollary, meant that all future complaints would be registered with the ACB, Arabatti said.

While the Congress party at the centre has targeted the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for not constituting a Lokpal, the state unit of the party took out a march from Bengaluru to Ballari (then known as Bellary) in 2010 against the lack of action on a report on illegal mining, which eventually led to the stepping down of then Karnataka chief minister B.S.Yeddyurappa.

However, soon after the Congress came to power in Karnataka in 2013, it diluted the watchdog’s powers and entrusted these to the ACB.

Created in 1984 after the state legislature passed the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, the duties of the anti-corruption watchdog included looking into complaints against administrative actions, cases of corruption, favouritism and indiscipline in the administrative machinery.

According to the provisions of the Act, the Lokayukta has its own police wing that reports only to the ombudsman. The Lokayukta argues that a law enforcement official under the control of the government cannot be expected to conduct a fair trial, impartial inquiry or investigation of high-ranking public servants. “On the other hand, a police officer working under the supervision of the Hon’ble Lokayukta is insulated from such influence," it said in its submission to the high court in September.

Former Karnataka Lokayukta and retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Santosh Hegde says that the creation of the ACB, which he says was brought about without any discussion in legislature or an amendment to the Act, would render the anti-corruption ombudsman’s office “futile". He adds that the ACB is an institution under the home minister and that they would have to take permission to raid someone in power. “I think it’s a ridiculous thing. They have created it (ACB) because they do not want a strong Lokayukta, because they know the adverse effect on them," he added.

The Karnataka HC is yet to pronounce its orders in this case.

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