Bangalore: State's Anti-graft Tryst - Pioneer, But with Half Measures

By V S Karnic

Bangalore, April 24 (IANS) Karnataka Lokayukta (ombudsman) and the Act that set up the institution have become the flavour of India's anti-graft summer of 2011.

Justifiably so, as Karnataka was the first state in India to set up Lokayukta through legislation way back in 1984. The first Lokayukta, A.D. Kaushal, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, was, however, appointed in 1986.

The state also gave India its first chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) in 1964, Nittor Srinivasa Rau, who had retired as chief justice of the then Mysore high court.

The CVC, however, did not make headlines for anti-graft measures under Rau. The office has, in fact, rarely been in the news for its drive against graft all these years.

For that matter, many in India would have come to know about CVC's existence only recently following the controversy over appointment of former Kerala-cadre IAS officer P.J. Thomas to the post. He was forced to quit after the Supreme Court ruled his appointment "non est" (non-existent).

Similarly, the Karnataka Lokayukta was hardly heard of till 2001 though the first Lokayukta was appointed in 1986.

The Karnataka Lokayukta Act of 1984 was an ambitious one as it brought the chief minister, the highest public executive in the state, under its scanner.

The Act gave powers to the Lokayukta to initiate action against the chief minister on its own (suo motu).

However, within six months of appointment of the first Lokayukta, the Karnataka government diluted the powers of the office, taking the chief minister out of its ambit and also doing away with the "suo motu" powers to launch investigation or action against ministers and senior officials.

The dilution of powers meant that the Lokayukta could only investigate allegations against the office of the chief minister, but not initiate action on its own.

It had powers to act on its own to tackle corruption only at lower levels of bureaucracy, namely, employees drawing a monthly salary of Rs.20,000 and below.

For the rest it had to obtain government permission.

The Karnataka Lokayukta was almost dormant till July 2001 when Nanje Gowda Venkatachala or N. Venkatachala, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, was appointed the fourth Lokayukta.

He launched highly publicised raids on government offices, caught bribe-taking officials red-handed and berated the staff if found sloppy in their work.

He also relentlessly sought more powers for the Lokayukta, including the right to initiate action on its own against all public servants starting with the chief minister.

As his term was ending in 2006, there was a public demand to give him another term. Venkatachala, by then 76, too said he was ready to continue.

The Janata Dal-Secular and the Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government at that time chose Nitte Santosh Hegde (N. Santosh Hegde), also a retired judge of the Supreme Court, as the new Lokayukta as there was no provision in the Act for a second term.

Hegde took over in August 2006 by when illegal mining had become the hottest issue in Karnataka.

In July 2006 mining baron and BJP legislator G. Janardhana Reddy (now tourism minister) had accused the then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD-S of taking Rs.150 crore bribe from mine-owners to allow illegal mining.

Hegde, unlike his predecessor Venkatachala, did not lead the raids. He, however, continued the practice of giving wide publicity to the raids.

He also kept up pressure on the government to grant more powers and succeeded to some extent after he quit in June 2010 accusing the BJP government of non-cooperation in fighting corruption.

Hegde, however, withdrew the resignation following an appeal by senior BJP leader L.K Advani.

But his resignation yielded some positive results as Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa's government empowered the Lokayukta to investigate on his own all public servants, including chief secretary, the head of the state civil service.

The government also granted, with a rider, powers to the Lokayukta to investigate complaints against the chief minister, ministers, law makers and heads of government corporations, boards and companies.

The complaint has to be accompanied by an affidavit by the complainant.

Hegde's term ends in August by when he would have submitted his final report on illegal mining in Karnataka which he said "will be explosive".

Hegde, who turns 71 in June, now faces a major test of his not-so-happy experience as Lokayukta - making the proposed Lokpal Bill foolproof to fight graft at the national level, with adequate powers to the institution to curb corruption effectively.

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Title : Bangalore: State's Anti-graft Tryst - Pioneer, But with Half Measures


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