It’s only a matter of time till controversial Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice Yerabati Bhaskar Rao, is shown the door.
Rao refused to resign honourably even after his son Ashwin and his gang were arrested for running a multi-crore blackmail and extortion racket.
The Karnataka government was left with no option but to amend the relevant Act to ease him out of office.
Legislature to begin proceedings
The Karnataka Lokyaukta (Amendment) Bill, 2015 received governor Vajubhai Vala’s assent two days ago and was gazetted on 17 August, making it part of the original Act.
Things are expected to move quickly and the Assembly could be convened for a two-day special session in the first week of September. That’s unless Rao quits voluntarily, seeing the writing on the wall.
Announcing the gazette notification, law and parliamentary affairs minister TB Jayachandra said: “The government has done what it had to do. The decision to remove the Lokayukta is now in the legislators’ court.”
The Assembly session would have been convened earlier, but for the fact that leaders of all political parties are busy with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) elections, due to be held on 22 August.
Modalities for removal
The amended law requires 75 members of the Assembly and 25 members of the Legislative Council to sign two separate letters, addressed to the Speaker and the Chairman respectively, to initiate a motion for the removal of the Lokayukta.
The BJP leader of the opposition, Jagadish Shettar, said his party legislators will decide in a day or two whether to move the motion immediately or wait till the BBMP elections are over.
Though the BJP has only 45 MLAs in the Assembly, all parties are united on the question of sacking Rao.
The day the motion is moved and accepted by the Speaker, Kagodu Thimmappa, and the Chairman, DH Shankaramurthy, the law provides for “divesting” the Lokayukta of all administrative powers and duties – virtually amounting to his suspension from office.
Ever since the controversy escalated a month ago, Rao has been on self-imposed exile. But the legislature will de jure keep him away from discharging his duties.
The removal process is a little more elaborate. The Speaker will then write to the Chief Justice of the High Court, asking him to either personally conduct an inquiry into the charges against the Lokayukta or appoint a judge for the purpose.
The court will have to send a report on its findings to the Speaker in two months.
If the report indicts the Lokayukta, legislators will discuss it at a special session; and if the report is accepted in both the houses with two-thirds majority, the Lokayukta stands banished.
How the scam unfolded
Though the scandal has been raging for over three months, Rao has hung on like a leach. The original Act of 1984 provided an iron-clad protection to the office of the Lokayukta, who could be removed only through an impeachment process.
The post of Lokayukta or ombudsman had spread terror among corrupt officials and politicians during Justice Santosh Hegde’s tenure. But Rao’s tenure, which started under the BJP government in 2013, was a complete let down.
While he maintained a very low profile in the first year, some of his officials, led by PRO Syed Riyaz, became hyperactive, opening a secret ‘back channel’ for wheeling and dealing.
Riyaz, a police sub-inspector, buttered his way to an out-of-turn promotion as joint commissioner at the instance of Rao. Riyaz roped in Ashwin, the Lokayukta’s middle-aged son, for all major deals, to give them an ‘official seal’.
Riyaz, Ashwin and their gang would make calls to senior officials and allegedly demand money to prevent ‘raids’.
The gang did not spare even high-ranking secretaries. According to some estimates, the gang had struck over 160 deals, pocketing at least Rs 200 crore, before an upright executive engineer, MN Krishnamurthy, blew the whistle in May when asked to cough up Rs 1 crore.
How the perpetrators were exposed
Krishnamurthy contacted Lokayukta SP Sonia Narang, who quietly made enquiries on her own and dashed off a letter to the registrar.
When Rao also tried to brush things under the carpet, Narang, disregarding her seniors’ counsel, filed an FIR in the High Grounds police station, naming Ashwin as the prime accused.
Rao wrote to the Siddaramaiah government to appoint a special investigation team (SIT), in order to buy time, and his request was accepted.
But the SIT, led by ADGP Kamal Pant, quickly got into the act and arrested three middlemen, before nabbing Ashwin from his father’s apartment in Hyderabad earlier this month. Four others, including Riyaz and V Bhaskar, an accused who has spilled the beans, are also in custody.
The bail application of Ashwin, which came up for hearing before the special Lokayukta court of Justice Bopaiah on 17 August, was rejected. He was remanded to judicial custody till 27 August.
It has now emerged that between January 2014 and June 2015, Rao ‘closed’ around 1,500 cases against officials who were facing various charges of misuse of public funds, sanctioning illegal construction and so on.
Social activists, including 97-year-old Gandhian HS Doreswamy, have expressed apprehensions about so many cases being closed ‘hurriedly’. While they do concede that these could be frivolous complaints which need to be closed, they are demanding a thorough enquiry into the ‘file closer’ in the Lokayukta.