New Man In The Hot Seat

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Brushing aside insinuations about his loyalties, the new Karnataka Lokayukta tells Imran Khan he will focus on governance

Centrestage It’s Patil’s turn to clean up the mining mess
Centrestage It’s Patil’s turn to clean up the mining mess
Photo: Sriram V Murthy

THE NEW Lokayukta of Karnataka, Justice (retired) Shivaraj V Patil, has a tough act to follow — that of N Santosh Hegde, who retired in a blaze of glory with the release of a report on illegal mining that cost BS Yeddyurappa the chief minister’s chair.

There are already indications of a shift in focus. Justice Patil, 71, told TEHELKA, “I will give 20 percent of my time to fighting corruption and the remaining 80 percent for setting right governance in the state.” As if to stress that the crusade against the corrupt cannot be an end in itself, he says, “It is necessary to root out corruption for good governance.”

The task of tackling misgovernance too is huge, as his office has 11,000 complaints of maladministration lodged with it. His priority, he says, will be to ensure that all cases reach their logical conclusion, are disposed of expeditiously and the culprits brought to book.

Karnataka, in fact, is the new Lokayukta’s home state — he was born in Maladkai, Raichur district, and joined the bar at Gulbarga. He went on to become a judge in the Karnataka and Madras High Courts and Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court before serving as a judge of the Supreme Court in 2000-05. He also chaired the National Human Rights Commission in 2007-08.

Justice Patil’s election as the new Lokayukta of his home state evoked a mixed response as he is from the dominant Lingayat community that forms the core of the BJP votebank. Dismissing these claims, Patil says, “It is a perception, and I cannot stop people from thinking. I am not appointed on caste considerations. After all, it’s not the Lingayat mutt that has appointed me but a state government and with the approval of Governor HR Bhardwaj.”

It was rumoured in Karnataka’s political circles, after the indictment of Yeddyurappa in the mining report, that the next Lokayukta would be a hand-picked Yeddy man who would help get the former CM off the hook.

But Law Minister S Suresh Kumar debunks such notions. “Justice Shivaraj Patil is a judge of the highest order and the BJP holds him in high esteem,” he says. “I doubt if there is any person who questions his integrity. Caste is only incidental, and was not a criterion in his appointment.”

In his defence, Justice Patil, who happens to be a close relative of former Union home minister Shivraj Patil points out, “When my report on the 2G scam came out, it was the same BJP that had trashed it.” Appointed by Union minister of communications Kapil Sibal in December 2010, Justice Patil’s one-man commission report had noted that the new telecom licences were issued in 2003 on first-come-first-served basis at 2001 prices without any guidelines, ignoring the regulator’s concerns.

True enough, Arun Shourie, former minister of communications in the NDA government, had reacted with, “He will confine himself to documents given to him by Sibal’s little minions and he gives this kind of nonsense.”

Now that the Governor has given sanction to prosecute Yeddyurappa, Lokayukta Patil has to decide on the course of action. “I have received the communication from the Governor and I am going through it,” he said. “The report submitted by Lokayukta is long and stupendous. Unless I study the report in detail, I cannot comment on it.”

And Patil adds reassuringly, as if aware of the weight of expectations that come with the new assignment: “Stringent action will be taken against those who indulge in corruption.” The Lokayukta has already matched his words with action, registering an FIR against Yeddyurappa, alleging graft in an irrigation project.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.
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