As he finally steps down as the Lokayukta of Karnataka, Justice Y Bhaskar Rao has taken down with him the very credibility of the institution he headed for 34 months.
Everybody agrees that his resignation is too little too late and now a lot has to be done if the prestige of Karnataka Lokayukta has to be re-established. Irrespective of what façade which party puts up, the political class is clearly delighted at the near demise of this institution that has spelt trouble to all three prime parties in the state.
For, leaders of all three parties – Siddharamaiah, HD Kumaraswamy, Jagadish Shettar and BS Yeddyurappa – have cases of corruption pending with the Lokayukta. The anti-corruption bureau, which has been virtually headless for months now, is also investigating cases against over 800 politicians in total, including former ministers and 60 IAS, IPS and IFS officers.
Using the pretext of Justice Bhaskar Rao’s case, the state government has diluted the Lokayukta Act of 1985 by amending Section 6 of the act through the Karnataka Lokayukta (Amendment) Bill, 2015. The amendment essentially gives power to the legislature to remove the Lokayukta with just one-third majority in both the Houses, taking away the independence of the ombudsman.
The last eight months have seen one of the most strident movements against the tainted former Lokayukta – students, senior citizens, activists and of course political parties pouring out onto the streets demanding Bhaskar Rao’s resignation. Former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde too joined the protesters, in a last ditch attempt to salvage the reputation of the institution he served, but to no avail. Justice Rao clung on to his position, with cries of protests falling on deaf ears. Even those who are usually restrained in their criticism of members of judiciary came out to slam Justice Rao vociferously, and not without reason: several Lokayukta officers including the PRO were arrested by the SIT. Rao’s son Ashwin Rao too was arrested with the police even establishing the office and official residence of Lokayukta as scenes of crime from where the extortion racket operated.
While Justice Rao’s resignation is welcome, the timing is also suspect, coming just two weeks after BJP and JDS moved the motion to oust him in the assembly. With a pending inquiry by the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court and his imminent removal, Rao’s stepping down might be just a ruse to prevent more skeletons from tumbling out. But in any case, it’s a win-win situation for the political class. The credibility of one institution that was a grave threat to them has been lowered. And now the process of finding a viable candidate will begin, giving them more time to stall cases against their own. If the government and the stake holders do not get their act together and ensure that a person who can help regain the lost glory of the Karnataka Lokayukta is brought in instead of a malleable, compromising person, then the institution will effectively be rendered redundant and crawl towards a slow death.