It was the indictment by then Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde in an illegal mining case that forced BS Yeddyurappa to step down from the Chief Minister’s chair in 2011.
Seven years later, a lot has changed.
The once powerful institution appears to be a pale shadow of itself. Earlier this month, the Lokayukta and the registrar had to seek intervention from the Karnataka High Court to stop government interference.
Reacting to this, former Supreme Court Judge and former Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde told TNM that the Lokayukta, and the registrar did “the right thing” to approach court as there are not many options left to contain the damage.
“The very fact that they (state government) created ACB (Anti-Corruption Bureau) and took away the power of probing anti-corruption cases from the Lokayukta is an act to make the Lokayukta weak. Now what is left with the institution?” Justice Hegde asked.
The authority of the Lokayukta office has been gradually eroded by the present government, which introduced the Anti-Corruption Bureau in 2016. After ACB’s introduction, the Lokayukta lost the power to file cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act on its own or conduct raids. Lokayakuta can, as a result, probe cases based on complaints addressed to them, and only after the permission of the state government.
But Justice Hegde said that it is not only the ruling Congress that was unhappy with the Lokayukta.
“After finding that the Lokayukta could be proactive, the IAS, IPS officers lobby is also trying to create hurdles for the institution and the government is not doing anything to stop it. This itself shows that there is a hand in glove action on the part of the government,” Justice Hegde said, adding that in cases the Lokayukta had registered FIRs before the formation of ACB in 2016, it can continue to probe them.
“It is in the interest of the politicians and IAS officers to make sure that the institution becomes totally useless and also defame it in public,” he added.
The need for an independent ombudsman was one of the primary demands by activists of the Anti-Corruption Movement led by Anna Hazare.
One of its proponents Prithvi Reddy, the state convenor of the Aam Aadmi Party agrees with Justice Hegde.
“The Congress has killed the institution of Lokayukta. We are going to fight the upcoming election on the issue of weakening of Lokayukta too. Not only to reinstate its power but also give the powers that Justice Santosh Hegde had asked for,” Reddy told TNM.
“Just because the last Lokayukta had sent the CM and five ministers to jail they (Congress)) decided to do away with it. Now also the lower ranked officials that the Lokayukta can book has to be done with the government’s approval. IAS/ IPS officers are simply conduits of their political bosses,” he added.
“What use is the institution? When the registrar is not independent, the institution right now is on ventilator,” he quipped.
In a high profile case that the watchdog was probing, five IAS officers were among the 13 accused in a land modification case. In another incident, an IAS officer was found in possession with Rs 4.37 crore in cash and over 2.5 kg of gold jewellery.
Among other political heavyweights who were under the Lokayukta radar were mining baron Janardhan Reddy, and former union minister GM Siddeshwara's brother Lingaraju.