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Karnataka: Teeth to the lokayukta

Mahesh Kulkarni  |  Bangalore 

Among the 17 that have enacted the Lokayukta Act, and where the ombudsman is active and, to an extent, effective, is Justice Santosh N Hegde, the state’s lokayukta, has been successful in trapping tainted ministers, lawmakers, senior officials and corporators since he took charge nearly five years ago.

Santosh N HegdeHegde is the son of another high-profile judge, Justice K S Hegde, who had resigned from his position as a Supreme Court judge, protesting his supersession when then prime minister Indira Gandhi overlooked him in appointing the chief justice of India on the eve of the imposition of emergency in 1975.

Hegde’s predecessor, Justice N Venkatachala, who had assumed office in 2001, was known for bringing the lokayukta to people’s doorstep, quite literally. Karnataka’s citizens came to know of the existence of this office during Venkatachala’s tenure (2001-06), when he would walk from door to door coaxing them to file complaints.

But it was Hegde’s tough actions against corrupt officials and public servants that made this quasi-judicial body popular, encouraging affected people to approach it with their complaints against corruption and maladministration.

“When I assumed office, people doubted my capability to deliver. I said the goal was the same but the way of functioning was different. I am sitting in office and using my officers to go out and investigate. I am not supposed to go out personally and raid the corrupt officials under of the I must encourage my police force to do the job and that is what I have done,” Hegde told Business Standard.

He is happy that the Lokayukta police have done their job during his four-and-a-half-year tenure. “My officers have gone up to the rank of a DIG and arrested him. A minister in the state cabinet, a lawmaker, and three corporators have been booked for graft cases,” he said. The minister even lost his job subsequently.(Click here for table)

The lokayukta’s office was instituted in the state through the Lokayukta Act, 1984, to investigate allegations or grievances with respect to administrative actions related to matters specified in List II or III of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution.

Hegde was able to get the amended to grant him suo motu powers to investigate the corrupt officials up to the rank of the chief secretary.

His biggest achievement came last year, when Hegde unearthed corruption cases against Katta Subramanya Naidu, then the state minister for information technology, and his corporator son
 

PROFILE OF THE FLAGBEARER
LOKAYUKTA SANTOSH N HEGDE
* Born on June 16, 1940, at Nitte Village of Karkala Taluk, Dakshina Kannada District, (Now Udupi)
* Most of the school education from St Aloysius School, Mangalore, and Madras Christian College, Madras
* Intermediate education from St Joseph’s College, Bangalore and BSc from Central College, Bangalore
* Studied law at Government Law College, Bangalore (Now University Law College)
* Joined the Bar in January 1966
* Appointed Advocate General in February 1984
* Designated Senior Advocate in May 1984 and continued as Advocate General from 1984 to 1988
* Appointed Additional Solicitor General of India in November 1989 and held the office for 11 months. Continued practice in the Supreme Court thereafter
* Appointed Solicitor General of India in 1998
* Appointed directly from the Bar as Judge of the Supreme Court in 1999
* Conferred Honorary Doctorate of Law by the University of Mangalore in February 2005
* Retired as a Supreme Court judge in June 2005
* Appointed the chairperson of the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal on July 6, 2005, and kept office till August 2, 2006
* Appointed the lkayukta of Karnataka on August 3, 2006, for a 5-year term under the provisions of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984

Before that, Hegde attracted nationwide attention when he found severe malpractices in the export of iron ore and the issue of transport licences to mining companies in the state’s mines department. His first report on illegal mining brought to light a nexus between corrupt officials and mining companies. This led to a ban on exports by the state government.

“The office of the lokayukta can do a lot to bring about probity in administration. We can to an extent check corruption in the administration and give a lot of help to people who are denied their legitimate rights under the law,” Hegde asserted.

For instance, there are issues with various schemes like pension for the physically-challenged, old-age people and widows. “It is difficult to secure pension for many people, as they have to go from table to table, spend a lot of money because of the work culture at government offices. But, as a lokayukta, we can help such people get their grievances redressed quickly,” Hegde says.

GRUMBLE OF THE PAPER TIGERS - I

Even as public attention is focused on the idea of a lok pal – an anti-corruption ombudsman – only 17 have as yet created the office of lokayukta, the state-level equivalent.

Maharashtra was the first to enact a Lokayukta Act, way back in 1971, but West Bengal did so only as recently as in 2003 and, after the term of the state’s first lok pal ended in 2009, a successor has not been appointed yet. Gujarat has taken seven years to fill the vacancy, while in Andhra Pradesh a former lokayukta describes the office as that of a ‘paper tiger’.

Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh N Hegde’s threat of resignation, protesting Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa’s response to his remonstrations about corruption in the state, had brought this low-profile post into media spotlight a few months ago.

“With one of the best Lokayukta Acts, I could not reach where I wanted to...” complained Justice Hegde while speaking to Business Standard. Hegde’s attempts in Karnataka to inject life into a defunct institution has propelled him on to the national stage, with his induction in the group constituted to draft the national Lok Pal Bill. However, in the rest of the country, a lokayukta remains a ‘paper tiger’, as Justice Ramanujam, former Andhra Pradesh lokayukta, had defined the post while speaking to Business Standard. Lack of awareness among the public about the existence of this office is a drawback across the country.

In the first of a three-part evaluation of the office of lokayukta, Business Standard looks at the case of Karnataka, which is in many ways unique, and compares this (in Part 2) with the experience in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, where the lokayukta functions in theory but has not been very effective, and (Part 3) the experience of Gujarat and West Bengal, where the office has been defunct for some time and no lokayukta has been appointed for several years.

First Published: Tue, May 03 2011. 00:20 IST
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