My son is innocent. Some people have taken advantage of him and I am being unnecessarily targeted. I have nothing to do with any of the charges. My only mistake is that I believed in the wrong people,” Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Y Bhaskar Rao, on being grilled by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing into allegations of corruption in the state Lokayukta.
People of Karnataka would recall with pride how, during the tenure of Justice Santosh Hegde, the Karnataka Lokayukta had demonstrated that it was possible to tackle corruption in high places. During his tenure, the BJP regime saw 17 of its leaders being sent to jail for illegal mining businesses and land denotification scams. The Lokayukta’s office became a ray of hope for the fight against corruption. Even a simple complaint against a bureaucrat or a politician could result in stringent action. However, today, the integrity of the very man who heads it is being questioned. People want to know why Bhaskar Rao has not stepped down from the position of the Lokayukta even after his son Ashwin Rao was arrested by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing into the corruption in the institution. Rao has stayed away from office since 17 July, ever since the controversy erupted. Despite the awkward questions being raised, perhaps Rao is experienced enough to realise that his continuation as the Lokayukta of Karnataka, a position of immense power, is the best defence he can put up at the moment.
Two months have passed since Rao’s absence from office. Consequently, the Lokayukta finds itself in a state of flux with work coming to a complete stand still and over 800 fresh complaint files lying unattended. “Who will attend to them, when will the people get justice if this is the attitude,” questions RTI activist TJ Abraham. “The government should remove him by passing an ordinance or impeach him,” he adds.
Although, that may not happen as the Karnataka legislature has developed cold feet on the matter. Last month the Karnataka Assembly stopped short of impeachment and ended up only amending the Karnataka Lokayukta Act by passing the Karnataka Lokayukta Amendment Bill 2015. Under the new Bill, 1/3rd of the legislators can move a motion to dislodge a Lokayukta and with a 2/3rd majority approving that motion, the Lokayukta can be removed. The 2/3rd majority clause has actually come to the rescue of Rao. The clause will make it mandatory for the Congress to seek BJP support in order to dislodge Rao. Given his proximity to some BJP leaders, including a Union Minister, this may be difficult.
However, Siddaramaiah would be wary of seeking the ouster of Rao since he himself is facing charges of denotification of around 500 acres of land in the controversial Arkavathy layout, a case which is in the Lokayukta’s ambit. Even state Home Minister KJ George is an accused in a land grab complaint filed by Samaj Parivartan Samudaya which is pending in the Lokayukta. And it is not just Congress leaders with cases in the Lokayukta, BJP leaders such as former Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa, former Deputy Chief minister of Karnataka KS Eshwarappa, V Somanna and Janardan Reddy, all have cases pending against them. In the Janata Dal (Secular) the list of ministers facing charges includes former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy among others.