Karnataka Governor is right, Lokayukta must be above suspicion

On February 8, 2004, Justice Manjunath got a plot in a housing society, allegedly in violation of the law.
Karnataka Governor is right, Lokayukta must be above suspicion
Karnataka Governor is right, Lokayukta must be above suspicion
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In the three months that retired Justice K L Manjunath’s name was recommended by the Siddaramaiah government for Upa Lokayukta post, the Karnataka governor has sought clarifications on the recommendation thrice. This is the first time a governor has thrice demanded a clarification on a potential appointee of the anti-corruption agency. Usually, the Governor asks just once for a clarification.

On Tuesday, Siddaramaiah denied that the Governor had rejected the recommendation, and added that the Governor had sought more information, which the government would soon provide.

Why is justice KL Manjunath a controversial name?

A week after S B Majage retired as Upa Lokayukta on July 17, the state government recommended the name of former High Court judge Justice K L Manjunath for the post.

After the tenure of Justice N Santhosh Hegde as Karnataka Lokayukta, the institution’s reputation and image have both been dented in the eyes of the public on account of its members being embroiled in one allegation of corruption or the other.

Around 2011, reports of at least 83 judges in Karnataka allegedly obtaining plots illegally in cooperative housing societies began to appear in the media. Justice Manjunath’s name too figured on that list, but he has denied violating any law.

On February 8, 2004, Justice Manjunath got a plot allegedly in violation of the law, in Vyalikaval House Building Cooperative Society (HBCS) near Bangalore International Airport. He bought the property in the name of his daughter K M Chaitra, who was 20 years old at the time and was not even a member of the housing society.

Instead of recusing himself, Justice Manjunath during 2005-2010, passed orders in favour of the housing society in two cases in which they were petitioners.

As per a HT report on September 2014, charges against Manjunath in an AAP signature campaign for impeaching the judge included, possession of wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income; presiding over a petition in favour of a housing society in which his daughter owned a plot; and failing to declare his assets in violation of the Supreme Court’s Full Court Resolution of 1997.

Karnataka government needs to be careful about appointment

In the past, the state government has faced a similar situation with other judges. Justive Shivraj Patil resigned barely a month after he took charge as Karnataka Lokayukta, as he too was accused of illegally purchasing a plot in a housing society.

The post remained vacant for some months after that, as the state government simply could not find a judge who had not been tainted by the same allegation. The names of justices SR Bannurmath and RV Raveendran too had to be rejected for the same reason.

The appointment of the current Lokayukta, Y Bhaskar Rao too was strongly opposed by civil society activists on the grounds that he too had illegally bought land in a cooperative housing society. Rao allegedly secured an illegal plot in a residential layout formed by the Judicial Department Employees House Building Cooperative Society near Yelahanka in Bengaluru. Currently, Rao is embroiled in more controversies with his son being arrested in a massive bribery scam.

State Law Minister TB Jayachandra has been hasty in giving KL Manjunath a clean chit. The institution of Lokayukta in Karnataka has been tarnished so badly over the last few months, that it would be realistic to say that people in the state have lost faith in the anti-corruption watchdog. At this juncture, to appoint a judge who is likely to be challenged strongly, will only do more damage to the institution. 

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