Extortion by a Lokayukta?

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Different strokes Krishna Rao taking oath; Santosh Hedge ruing the besmirched reputation. Photo: SB Satish
Different strokes Krishna Rao taking oath; Santosh Hedge ruing the besmirched reputation. Photo: SB Satish

What does an anti-corruption agency do when complaints against itself surface? Set up a probe, clean up the agency, set its house in order or just outsource the operation to another agency, wishing away the controversy? The office of the Karnataka Lokayukta has in its hands an internal report on extortion calls from its offices. It was filed by Superintendent of Police Sonia Narang, 38, and handed over to the Central Crime Bureau (CCB) of Bangalore Police.

The question being raised now is: How much will Justice (retired) Bhaskar Rao, who took charge as Lokayukta in February 2013, cooperate in the unraveling of the truth?

For some time now, the office of the Karnataka Lokayukta has been under the scanner, with questions being raised about its own integrity and fingers of suspicion being pointed towards its own officers. Narang, an ips officer, dared to ask questions about calls made from the residence of the Karnataka Lokayukta Bhaskar Rao.

The report accessed by Tehelka reveals how several phone calls were made to corrupt officials, allegedly demanding bribes to hush up public complaints against them. In his first year, 461 cases were referred to the Lokayukta, and in the second, 375.

In what comes to light, there was a syndicated racket within the anti-corruption watchdog office which extracted its pound of flesh by calling up corrupt officers in the state government. They would be summoned to either a hotel or in some instances to the official residence of 71-year-old Justice Rao to negotiate a ‘fee’ for not pursuing the complaint against him/her.

Some complainants in the case told the investigating officer Sonia Narang about the role of a person who identified himself as Ashwin Rao and carried out the ‘negotiations’. Rao’s son, named Ashwin Rao, frequents the office occupied by his father but it is not established that the person demanding the bribes was the same person. Justice Rao was quick to deny the role of his son. He told Tehelka, ”My son’s name is Ashwin Rao but I can say that he is not involved in this entire incident. If it is ever proved that he was involved, I will resign in front of you.”

Rao is putting up a brave front denying the role of his kin, but many recall the example of probity that Justice (retd) Shivraj Patil had set for the institution when he stepped down after just two months in the post when even a small charge of preferential allotment of a plot was made against him by some media houses in 2011-12. Will Rao have to go down the same road?

Tehelka learns that between February and May, some officers got phone calls from the Lokayukta office and were told about pending complaints against them. Once the targeted state government official fell in the fear trap, a meeting would be fixed and he would meet the caller in the Lokayukta’s office, residence or at a hotel.

The person identified by most complainants was ‘Krishna Rao’ a selfstyled secretary of Justice Rao. A couple of complainants said that Krishna Rao demanded up to 1 crore to settle any inquiry into the complaint. While it is suspected that nearly 60-70 government officers fell into the ‘negotiation’ trap, just a few could muster the courage to raise a flag about demands to settle the complaints against him.

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