Karnataka Lokayukta: How the crusading organisation got mired in allegations of graft
When one of the officials targeted by the racketeers dared to bring the matter to the notice of an honest IPS officer posted in the Lokayukta office, it opened a can of worms.
By Arvind S Kamal
Bangalore: Once considered as a model to the rest of the country, Karnataka’s premier anti-corruption institution, which exposed the biggest ever iron ore mining scam (Rs 16,000 crore) in the history of the country leading to the axing of a chief minister (BS Yeddyurappa) and his ministerial colleagues, is today despised by one an all. It is not so because the Lokayukta is not as effective as before, but because today the ombudsman organization itself has become the epicenter of corruption with Lokayukta justice Y Bhaskar Rao's son Ashwin, who is now in police custody, emerging as the prime accused!
Ashwin was nabbed in the distant city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra today after evading the law. He has been named as the accused No 1 in the FIR filed in connection with a well-oiled extortion racket run in the office of the Lokayukta. Ashwin tried every legal remedy available to him, but he drew blank before agreeing to surrender. But justice Rao, instead of resigning from the post to restore the honor and dignity of the Lokayukta, is waiting for his son to emerge clean!
SR Hiremath, the Founder of Samaja Parivarthane Samudaya, which played an instrumental role in exposing the mining scam, terms the situation as the “most shameful” in the history of the Lokayukta. "If the Lokayukta has even a bit of shame, he should resign from the post immediately. He should not continue to remain in office while the SIT (Special Investigation Team) has detained his son. The pride and honor of the institution is at stake,” has been Hiremath’s campaign speech.
No one could sum up the situation better than Hiremath, who has selflessly exposed various corrupt politicians of Karnataka. When the news about the extortion racket broke out two months ago, it exploded on Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s face. Interestingly, the Congress government did not take the issue seriously because its own interests were at stake.
According to the FIR, Ashwin, in association with Lokayukta PRO Syed Riyaz, and a few journalists and RTI activists, targeted corrupt government officials on the verge of retirement. Then, they would place extortion calls right from the Lokayukta’s office – that is if the corrupt officials refused to pay up the money demanded, they would face raids by the Lokayukta officials. Now, all the six accused, including Riyaz, are in the custody of the police. It is said that the accused collected more than Rs 200 crore through the racket. Wasn’t justice Rao aware of any of this? If he wasn’t aware of it, why isn’t he making it clear to the SIT? Is he waiting for the SIT to summon him? He knows that the SIT cannot summon him as long as he is in the chair of the Lokayukta.
The genesis of the racket is interesting and what followed was shocking. When one of the officials targeted by the racketeers dared to bring the matter to the notice of an honest IPS officer posted in the Lokayukta office, it opened a can of worms. Even after the IPS officer submitted a report on the racket to the Lokayukta, Justice Rao did not act quickly. After waiting for 20 days and realizing that the image of the Lokayukta had taken a severe dent, Upa Lokayukta justice Subhash B Adi directed the IPS officer to conduct a free and fair probe. However, shockingly, when justice Adi was on an official tour of Karnataka, Justice Rao issued an overriding order and handed over the case to the Bengaluru Central Crime Branch (CCB) for detailed probe despite being aware of the fact that the CCB had no jurisdiction over the Lokayukta.
To make the matters worse, the CCB refused to take over the case and justice Rao requested the government to constitute a SIT. In the meantime, justice Adi directed the IPS officer to reopen the case to be once again shut by justice Rao. The developments in the Lokayukta office in the last 30 days show that it is no less than any political party. There is a section of the political establishment, which alleges that Ashwin could not have operated the racket without the blessings of his father.
The post of the Lokayukta is held in such high esteem that when justice Shivaraj Patil was the ombudsman, he quit the post after he was accused of possessing a residential plot in Bengaluru in violation of government rules. But now, justice Rao’s son has been detained for questioning for his alleged role in the extortion racket. But for justice Rao, that is no sufficient reason to step down from the post.
The Congress government’s move also gives rise to plenty of speculations, as it is no mood to hand over the case to the CBI. There are few interesting twists and turns to the plot. Days before the racket came to the fore, the Lokayukta hurriedly filed FIR against former chief ministers HD Kumaraswamy and BS Yeddyurappa in separate land de-notification cases. When the racket became public, it quietly closed a few cases against Siddaramaiah. Though it is wrong to draw any links between these decisions and the racket, the Opposition parties did question these developments.
The situation is tight for the Lokayukta and its officials, who are allegedly part of the racket. The BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) are vociferously demanding the resignation of Justice Rao. The Karnataka government is not invoking any sections of the law to unseat the Lokayukta. In the meantime, the raids and actions against corrupt officials have become nil, indicating that more drama is set to unfold.
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