by Kartikeya Tanna
At a time when the Congress is still reeling under the debacle in Uttar Pradesh the last thing it needed was news in favor of the BJP on corruption allegations against one of its top leaders. Not too long ago, when the heated Lokpal Bill debates took place in television studios, a constant rejoinder from vocal Congressmen was to remind the BJP on Yeddyurappa’s corruption in Karnataka.
The Karnataka High Court has quashed the complaint and the FIR filed against Yeddyurappa, primarily for lack of material. At one place in the Order – in paragraph 28 – the Court actually remarked that the counsel “was mum” when asked if there was any material to establish that Yeddyurappa had done a favour to the mining companies. Moreover, since Yeddyurappa was neither a mining minister nor a Chief Minister in 2007 – when mining leases were granted to companies as alleged – the Court thought it to be “beyond anyone’s comprehension” that Yeddyurappa did them any favour.
While the Lokayukta has indicated that it would appeal this Order in the Supreme Court, this decision as well as its rationale gives Yeddyurappa a clean chit in the truest sense for now. More importantly this is a clean chit by a court of law rather than the oft-preferred electorate or friendly media stations.
To provide a brief history, in July 2011, the Lokayukta officially forwarded a report to the Governor HR Bharadwaj indicting Yeddyurappa, among others, under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The primary ground for the indictment was that in lieu of favours done to a mining company and a plot of land sold to another, the trust fund of his children Prerana Education Trust and his son-in -law received a total of around Rs. 30 crore.
This report was leaked – a rather frequent occurrence these days – before being officially presented to Bharadwaj. Yeddyurappa was pronounced guilty, particularly by political opponents and media outlets leading to his resignation on moral grounds. The Karnataka governor accepted the Lokayukta report and provided sanction for initiating criminal proceedings against Yeddyurappa leading to the issuance of a complaint and an FIR setting the criminal process in motion.
Yeddyurappa filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court questioning the validity of the Lokayukta report, the Governor’s decision to order sanction as well as asking for the complaint and FIR to be quashed. Much to his delight, he has obtained all reliefs he asked for.
What is interesting is that Yeddyurappa’s petition is a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution – a constitutional remedy – to quash the complaint and FIR. filed under the criminal procedure law. Ordinarily, the remedy against a baseless or deficient FIR is under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code which allows a High Court to pass any order as necessary to secure the ends of justice.
The constitutional remedy under Article 226, on the other hand, is to ask the High Court to issue orders or directions to primarily ensure protection of fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution. As the Court observed, it can interfere through this constitutional remedy “only in the rarest of the rare case” where abuse of power of investigation is made out. The right to ‘life’ in the Constitution includes the right to protection of reputation. And since serious indictments in the Lokayukta report had the effect of tarnishing the reputation of Yeddyurappa, the Court found it appropriate to consider this a “rare” case.
Indeed, to be sure, protection of one’s reputation is not absolute. If it were, anti-corruption bodies would find it difficult to pass indictments against many politicians. Therefore, to balance this right with the dire need to strongly pursue the corrupt, it was considered necessary by the Court that Yeddyurappa be given a chance to respond to the Lokayukta on indictments made against him. This opportunity, required under the principles of natural justice, was particularly vital in this case because initiation of criminal process against a sitting chief minister had serious consequences in as much as he had a moral obligation to resign from a constitutional post in order to ensure fairness in the process.
Moreover, the Karnataka Lokayukta Act does provide the indicted public servant a right to be heard even in such preliminary inquiries. To confirm this, the High Court relied on a few judgments which, incidentally, refute Justice Hegde’s assumptions.
Lastly, this Order sends out an important lesson for governors. In 2008, the same Lokayukta had also found former Karnataka chief minister Dharam Singh (of the Congress party) responsible for giving illegal permits for transportation of illegally mined minerals causing a loss of Rs 23.22 crore and resulting in pecuniary benefit to others (page 161). Surprisingly, this report was not accepted by the governor despite a serious indictment. How the governor could differentiate between the two indictments is unfathomable.
While state governors are vital in ensuring that political offenders don’t get away with unabashed unchecked corruption, they should caution against using the institution of Lokayukta and its reports as a tool to foment political confrontation. While it may not always be intended as a political move, the post of a governor being a sacred constitutional post, care should be taken to ensure that it is not seen to be one.
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Updated Date: Mar 08, 2012 18:21:23 IST