Lokayukta gets some powers

First step towards strengthening institution
Last Updated 09 July 2010, 19:11 IST

Although the state government has sought to limit the Lokayukta from proceeding with corruption cases that might involve the chief minister, his ministerial colleagues, legislators and public servants the powers-that-be nominate, Yeddyurappa announced in the Assembly that the ombudsman could pursue suo motu cases involving senior bureaucrats.

The senior officials who could be proceeded against include the chief secretary, additional chief secretary and principal secretaries. The prime mover behind the state government’s decision to grant more power to the Lokayukta institution stemmed from Justice Santosh Hegde’s outburst last month followed by his resignation. Citing specific instances of what he thought were corrupt actions on the part of officials, Justice Hegde had said his resignation was partly because he felt powerless to act against not just corrupt officials but also politicians.

Once Justice Hegde withdrew his resignation earlier this month on the intervention of veteran BJP leader L K Advani, the chief minister promised that his government would strengthen the institution by amending relevant provisions of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act governing the functions of the ombudsman. The State Cabinet, which met Friday morning before Assembly proceedings began, approved the proposed amendments to the Act.

At present, only the Upa Lokayukta (a post which has been lying vacant for the past seven months) has suo motu powers to initiate cases involving official corruption. The Upa Lokayukta could take action only if there was a specific complaint.

The Lokayukta is not empowered to discharge the duties of the Upa Lokayukta, which was one of Justice Hegde’s grouses against the Yeddyurappa government. In accordance with the amendments to the Act, the Lokayukta will be able to perform the duties of the Upa Lokayukta when the post is vacant. Conversely, the Upa Lokayukta will discharge the functions of the Lokayukta in the event of the post falling vacant on account of resignation, retirement or death.

The government’s decision to issue more powers to the Lokayukta, however, comes with some riders on suo moto powers to probe public servants. It will be compulsory for the Lokayukta or the Upa Lokayukta to record in writing the grievance or the allegation on which suo moto investigation will be conducted.

Besides, a copy of the complaint will have to be provided to the concerned bureaucrat before an enquiry is initiated. The objective is to give public servants a fair opportunity to reply to remarks made by the Lokayukta and Upa Lokayukta.

Yeddyurappa said that under the amended law, government servants against whom prima facie evidence of corruption or other irregularities are found would have to vacate their offices following a declaration by the Lokayukta or the Upa Lokayukta. But the “competent authority” would have the power to accept or reject the declaration.

Reading out the proposed amendments, the chief minister said the services of officers of the Central or state government or any other authority could be employed by the Lokayukta or Upa Lokayukta while pursuing investigations. In such cases, Yeddyurappa said, the Lokayukta will have to seek prior permission of the Central or State government.

(Published 09 July 2010, 13:15 IST)

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